WHAT WE LEARNED: Truculence in Toronto

TORONTO - JULY 10: Will Power of Australia driver of the #12 Team Penske Dallara Honda gets pushed by the safety team after crashing in turn 5during the IZOD IndyCar Series Honda Indy Toronto on July 10, 2011 in the streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

In a sense, the hard-fought, then wreck-filled, Honda Indy Toronto was as Canadian as you can get.

Canada, in terms of sport, is dominated - some even say defined - by ice hockey. And not just ice hockey, but Canadian ice hockey. The Canadian variant of the game (or The Game, as it is known thanks to Ken Dryden's fantastic book about the subject) is less a skill game than a grit game. The flowing, free-passing, skill-based game that hockey moved to in recent years was developed in Russia - Canada only grudgingly began to adapt to it when it was clear that their traditional hard-hitting physical game could not defend against a more open tactical and strategic variation.

Canadian hockey is synonymous with heart, "sand," truculence, and force. So the way the Honda Indy Toronto played out on Sunday is wholly in character with qualities embraced by the host country.

The layout of the Exhibition Place street circuit has resulted in one of the best street circuits on the schedule. It's tight, cramped, claustrophobic - but since it appears that the more breathing room you give a race driver, the more boring the racing gets, Toronto's confines have produced some memorable street racing.

Yesterday was no exception, notwithstanding the enormous surplus of brainfades and tempers (we'll get to that in a second). There were battles all over the track - wheel-to-wheel battles full of tension and thrills - and the typical stringing out of the field that occurs on other street courses never happened. Some may say that the lack of a breakaway was because of the number of cautions, but that does an injustice to the technical nature of the track and the increased parity between the haves and have-nots.

So why did this terrific race - a race that was drawing compliments even from NASCAR fans who had tuned in out of curiosity - devolve into a raging mass of boneheadedness? For the same reason that a hockey game goes from a hard-fought contest to a morass of fighting majors and cheap shots. The intensity of competition, when placed into a small enough container, will build up such pressure that eventually it will explode.

In hockey, if you get two teams that genuinely dislike each other in one rink, the violence and temper will escalate until, in some cases, both teams will end up on the ice fighting in what is called a "line brawl." In those cases, the referees can only stand back and watch, hope that nobody kills anyone, and then step in once everyone is too tired to vent their hatred on each other.

The "line brawl" mentality certainly was out in force at Toronto - it was clear towards the end as caution piled upon caution, as drivers made dumber and dumber decisions out of desperation, fatigue, or plain idiocy, that INDYCAR just wanted the race to be over. But because of how the race shook out, it's not going to be truly over for a while. There are two weeks until Edmonton which will be filled with sniping, second-guessing, and - most likely - a bit of vitriol.

And the sport needs it. Just like hockey cannot always be about skill and speed but needs to have a healthy dose of sandpaper, racing requires a bit of genuine annoyance and irritation thrown in to season the mixture. Toronto certainly lived up to its historic billing by providing those in abundance - not to mention plenty of discussion fodder for the upcoming two-week layoff.

#FTW

  • Chip Ganassi. His primary team swept the top two finishing positions and he saw his rival Roger Penske fall further behind in the championship chase. Doesn't get better than that for the Chipster.
  • Marco Andretti kept up his run of good finishes with a solid fourth on the heels of his victory at Iowa. Looks like his resurgence can no longer be considered a fluke.
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay is a married man now. No offense to those who bought toasters and china and marital gag gifts, but his podium was probably the best wedding present he could have asked for.
  • Sebastien Bourdais finally finished a race. In sixth place, no less. In a Dale Coyne car. Even after being collected in an incident involving Paul Tracy (which was a pleasing nostalgic note for some of us). Let that sink in for a bit.
  • Simona de Silvestro has burnt hands, is recovering from a concussion, and is driving a race car built back when George W. Bush was in his first presidential term. Tenth place is not bad at all.
  • Dallara Automobili is going to get a huge windfall in spare parts orders this week. PARTY TIME, BOYS AND GIRLS.

#FTL

  • Will Power could not have had a worse day without another concussion. He finished 24th after being spun by race-winner Dario Franchitti. Afterwards, he delivered a scathing on-air interview that was at once completely awesome and an indicator that he's watching another championship hunt fall apart before his eyes.
  • Roger Penske probably shared Power's analgesics after the race. Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves did their best to outdo each other for the Punter of the Race Award, and Briscoe's seventh-place finish was the only bright spot of a day best forgotten by The Captain.
  • Tony Kanaan barely had time to scuff the sheen off of his tires before getting knocked out of the race by Briscoe.
  • Takuma Sato has shown plenty of speed and talent on ovals, but it's like he forgets he has a brake pedal on road and street courses. Another early exit for the likeable but accident-prone Japanese driver.
  • Alex Tagliani had a day to forget as well - taking out Power and then getting taken out himself in a frightening crash that sent him helmet-first along the retaining wall. But Power calling him a "wanker" probably hurt worse.
  • Canadian favorites James Hinchcliffe and Paul Tracy took each other out of contention racing for position. Tracy later dusted off his chrome horn to absolutely nobody's delight.
  • Charlie Kimball is a really nice guy. I keep having to say that because his race performances are the stuff of nightmare. Ganassi's B-team wasn't helped by Graham Rahal throwing away a potential podium finish by trying to shut the door in turn three and getting himself spun out for his pains.
  • IndyCar Race Control earned themselves no fans by appearing to be asleep at the wheel during all of the incidents in the race - not to mention green-lighting most of the single-file restarts except for a handful late in the going.
  • I could do without hearing Michael Andretti complaining about something for the foreseeable future, thank you very much.

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