In 1986, the city of Toronto was awarded a CART race, marking the first appearance of the series in Canada. It was met with incredible excitement, attracting an estimated 60,000 fans. For the next several years, the Molson Indy was an annual highlight of the series. Even the contentious feud between Champ Car and the IRL didn’t dissuade local race fans from heading out to Exhibition Place every July, with crowds exceeding 70,000 throughout the early part of the 2000s.
In 2006, Molson stopped sponsoring the event, setting in motion a sequence of events that cost the race its reputation. When the IRL and Champ Car merged in 2007, the Toronto Indy was cancelled for the following season. Fortunately Andretti Green Racing purchased the assets of the defunct Grand Prix and reinstated the race, this time under the sponsorship of Honda. But the poor economy and Toronto's changing population have affected attendance, as only 25,000 showed up for the 2011 event and there were plenty of empty seats this year as well.
The street course has a reputation as being one of the most difficult on the Indy Car schedule, with relatively narrow roads surrounded by concrete walls on both sides. Drivers have no time to relax during the minute-long lap. Turn 3 is the key point on the track and it was here that driver Jeff Krosnoff and a race marshal were killed in a horrific accident in 1996. Since then, safety standards have been improved, but racing is still an inherently dangerous sport, both for participants and fans.
The entire event lasts three days, with Friday being free for all. Saturday sees autograph sessions, the first Star Mazda Race, the Indy qualifying, and the Indy Lights race, while Sunday includes the second Star Mazda race before the main event. I didn't want to spend 7 hours outside, so I showed up around noon in time for the 12:30 start of the pre-race festivities.
I was fortunate to be staying within walking distance to the course, as parking was a ridiculous $25. Tickets are also overpriced, with the best seats going for $135 ($185 for the weekend). If you only want to walk around, you can get general admission passes for $35 ($45 for both days). I would recommend this option and using the GA section near turn 3, which likely has the most action. I found a $25 seat for Turn 9 (regularly $65) and would advise against this area, as there is no passing done there, although it is good for pictures, with a part of the fence open for official photographers, as you can see in most of the car shots here. Above is the view I had from my seat, while below is the actual seating area at turn 9, much smaller than I expected.
The Direct Energy Center housed the Support Series Paddock with dozens of cars on display (such as the Ferrari below) from the other races. Here is also where you can find a few specialty food stands that provide some variety from pizza and hot dogs. There was a sushi spot where the rolls where made right there in front of you; I had a pedestrian tuna roll which was a bit too much at $9. There was also a crepe stand that was not cheap but might have been more satisfying.
The introduction of the drivers was held at Victory Circle about 30 minutes before the race. The last three included Canadian James Hinchcliffe, who was accompanied by some flames that even surprised him, while Dario Franchitti appeared surrounded by smoke. It was a bit of an omen as Franchitti's race went up in smoke after a bad pit stop and he finished 17th. Hinchcliffe had mechanical troubles and was forced to retire after just 28 laps, a sad ending for the hometown hero.
I don't want to recap the entire race because frankly, I had no idea what was going on from my vantage point. There were speakers and I could hear the announcers calling the race, but even then all the passing and incidents occurred elsewhere. All I could do was see if the order changed from lap to lap, which it did on occasion. Simon Pagenaud (#77 above) had the lead for much of the early part of the race, but Ryan Hunter-Reay (#28, below) took over on the 49th lap and held the lead the rest of the way except for a single lap when JR Hildebrand briefly led.
It was Hunter-Reay's third straight checkered flag and he took over the points lead with just 5 races left. That's him below at Victory Circle.
The Honda Indy was a good experience although I was fortunate to find a cheaper option as $35 for a 90-minute race is a bit much in my mind. But if you spend the full day there, or even the weekend, the value is more apparent and you should enjoy yourself with plenty to see and do.
Tony Kanaan finished 4th, but at least he saves money on car insurance
Dr. Pepper was giving out free bottles and cans of their horrid cherry drink and some fans picked up half a dozen to carry home. Those that finished the freebies on site must have felt that the Exhibition Place grounds were their personal garbage disposal, leaving their litter everywhere despite plenty of empty garbage bins and recycling containers nearby. Clean up your act, Toronto!
After the race, I made my way up Dufferin Street and happened upon a quiet pub called Cafe Jolly. They had a very nice pint and panini combo for just $10 and a small patio that was a good place to sit and relax after a short day.
I'm flying back to Singapore today. I'm hoping to see a Malaysian Super League game this weekend, so check back next week to see how that went.