He may have won the Toronto Indy a record seven times, but Michael Andretti is no fan of this year’s race on the streets of Exhibition Place.
Andretti feels the new doubleheader format slated for Toronto this year has the potential to be hugely taxing on everyone involved, from drivers to tire changers, not to mention his team owner’s wallet.
“Definitely going to be a challenge no question about it,” said the Andretti Autosport owner.
“It’s putting a big, big demand on the drivers, in my opinion, and the teams in a lot of ways, the guys that go over the [pit] wall and stuff. So, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of it.”
The doubleheader will see two full-length races over the July 12-14 Honda Indy Toronto weekend. One race goes Saturday with the second on Sunday.
As a racer, Andretti was in a class of his own when he crossed the border into Canada, taking a total of 10 wins in Toronto and Vancouver in his Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) days. Al Unser Jr., who holds the record for most wins in the Vancouver Indy at four, is second in Canadian CART victories with six.
The veteran of 317 IndyCar starts, including 16 in Toronto, also understands the mental and physical stresses involved in a hard street race like the one at Exhibition Place. And while the 1991 CART champion didn’t come out and say it, he hinted that the second race might be a dangerous proposition due to fatigue among drivers and crew as they try to deal with a second full-length event on the notoriously unforgiving Toronto course.
“I think it’s going to be really, really difficult on the drivers,” he said.
“I believe that if some of these guys that make these decisions don’t understand what it’s like to be in a race car and how spent you are after a race ― there were times where if I had to race on Monday after a race on Sunday, it would have been really tough to do it. And now they’re asking these guys to go out and try to do that.
“And a place like Toronto, which is very physical, I mean if it’s hot, you’re going to have guys falling out of the seats in the second race.”
The format means the drivers and pit crews face a weekend with a total of 170 hard laps of the tight 11-turn, 2.824-kilometre circuit. That’s almost 500 kilometres of close racing on a circuit known for its carbon fibre smashing action. On a good weekend, the Toronto race usually features aggressive driving and wheel banging that inevitably finds broken cars wedged into the tire barriers. Those that don’t get totalled often need serious and costly repairs.
Canadian Alex Tagliani, who drives for the Barracuda Racing, feels it will be toughest on the crews, who do so much of the preparation work behind the scenes, as well as work servicing the car in the pitlane during races.
“I’m concerned about those guys,” he said.
“It’s going to be hard for them because they will have to leave the pitlane on Saturday and have to go right back into the trailer to prep their equipment for another race. It’s going to be a challenge and it will test everyone on the team.”
Among the drivers, Rahal-Letterman’s Graham Rahal is in favour of the idea, something he expressed on Twitter soon after it was announced. Penske driver Will Power also likes it.
Like Andretti, KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar champion, recently expressed his concerns about fatigue among the drivers and the toll that races on consecutive days would take on the crews.
Dale Coyne driver Justin Wilson also agreed that it would be a tough weekend, while Ganassi’s Dario Franchitti, a four-time IndyCar champion, wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea either.
IndyCar will also have doubleheader weekends on the street course venues in Detroit and Houston. The Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix is the first weekend in June, while the Shell-Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston goes in early October.
Tagliani feels that the debut of the doubleheaders on the demanding Detroit circuit will put the drivers through their paces, probably even more than Toronto.
“I have to say that I think we are going to have our hands full racing both days, full distance on a physically demanding track like that,” he said.
“I don’t know how the drivers will feel the next day, but we’ll be testing ourselves definitely. If a guy has any little health issue, he will be in a miserable condition on Sunday to do the second racer. I am going to cross my fingers for the week before Detroit and stay away from anyone who is sick.”
It is thought that part of the reason Toronto got the nod for a two-in-one weekend was the series’ switch of its Canadian TV partner from TSN to Rogers Sportsnet this year. With the Edmonton race being abandoned by the series, the Toronto doubleheader still gives IndyCar two events in Canada, while also creating some additional interest that will likely help Sportsnet attract viewers in its first year as an IndyCar broadcaster.
The Edmonton event was cancelled late last year after the promoter and IndyCar agreed to end its run after eight races beginning in 2005.
Doubleheader weekends were the brainchild of now former IndyCar chief executive Randy Bernard. The idea was to use the doubleheaders to create some buzz that would help build the fan base for the series, something it desperately needs. Bernard was fired late last year and replaced by interim boss Jeff Belskus, who kept his predecessor’s doubleheader plans in place.
With IndyCar road show only visiting 16 cities to run 19 races, the idea was to have doubleheader weekends to up the number of races without adding the significant expense of travelling to additional venues.
It’s a good theory, but Andretti suggested that may not be the way things turn out.
“I know as an owner ― if I’m just going to talk strictly as an owner ― there’s a huge expense to doing that, where they thought they’d actually be saving you money but in a lot of ways it’s going to cost us a lot of money,” he said.
“From that standpoint, I don’t think it was doing what they were hoping it would do.”
In the end, it’s all about point of view. Owners will look at their expenses and scowl, drivers will ache after the double race weekend, pit crews will test their endurance, and the fans in the stands will smile over their two-for-one deal.
But like it or not, the doubleheaders are going to be on the docket no matter how the paddock feels about them, so everyone should embrace the idea and make the best of what promises to be an unforgiving weekend, Tagliani stressed.
“If this is what the series has decided, you better get it in your head and start liking it,” he said. “They’re going to be on the schedule, and we will have to do them.”
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