• 2018 Honda Indy Toronto

Going back to the Honda Indy Toronto

The sights, the smells, the sounds and the old friends and colleagues I’ve known for years – it was time to refresh old memories.

Lee Bailie By: Lee Bailie July 18, 2018
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The last time I went to the Honda Indy Toronto prior to returning this year was in 2014.

Although four years isn’t that long in terms of time, it’s seems like an age given how much has changed in my personal and professional lives since then.

At the time of the 2014 race, I wrote a regular motorsports column, I served as the editor for the event’s official souvenir program and spent a lot of my free time following racing, in person, online and on television. Back then I had been to every Toronto Indy race since 2007.

Fast forward to 2018, and it’s a completely different story.

The column was retired at the end of 2015, the souvenir program is now produced by others (although I still do freelance work for the publisher), and I spend far less time following racing than I once did. As one can see by searching my name on this site, I write about cars and the car industry, not racing. Simply put, racing is mostly a part of my past these days.

But despite its diminished role, I still have a lot of great racing memories. And I’d been away from the Honda Indy Toronto for long enough that I had become curious about it again. I decided it was time to go back.

There are things I wanted to see for myself such as the relocated pit lane and media centre, but mostly I just wanted to experience a race weekend up close again.

The sights, the smells, the sounds and the old friends and colleagues I’ve known for years – it was time to refresh old memories.

2018 Honda Indy Toronto

Change is good?

I elected to skip Friday because I was busy with work and nothing of consequence usually happens during what is essentially a day of non-stop practice sessions.

Arriving during a steady drizzle on Saturday at around 12:30 pm, I picked up my media credential and parking pass and parked under the Gardiner Expressway near the entrance beside Ricoh Coliseum.

Once on the grounds, I went to the media centre to see if I could find a seat, set up my laptop and drop my bag off.

Back in 2014, the media centre was housed in the Beanfield Centre, which is in the Automotive Building, but it was moved to the Enercare Centre after the construction of Hotel X required race organizers to move the pit lane to the north side of the main front straight between turns 10 and 11.

The new location makes sense logistically given its proximity to the pitlane and Verizon IndyCar Series paddock (Enercare Centre), but the room feels a bit cramped.

At any rate, I found a seat beside some old colleagues and got myself set up. After watching some support race activity and IndyCar qualifying (Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden won the pole), I decided it was time to wander around, take some photos and see what was happening on the grounds.

2018 Honda Indy Toronto

Honda here, there and everywhere

Honda Canada has sponsored the Toronto Indy event since 2009 (the agreement has been extended through 2020), and the company takes full advantage of the marketing opportunity title sponsorship affords, with loads of its many products scattered throughout the grounds.

From production cars to racecars, motorcycles to ATVs and more, there was enough Honda and Acura product on site to stock a dealership or two. It was nearly impossible to not see a Honda product during my walkaround.

Much of it was concentrated in and around Honda World, an air-conditioned tent filled with interactive displays and exhibits that highlight Honda’s racing history, including IndyCar and Formula One.  

2018 Honda Indy Toronto

The show cars and racing simulators were big draws, but so was the giant TV screen and rows of bench seating (full when I cruised through) that allowed hot and weary spectators to watch on-track activity in air-conditioned comfort.

Outside, in addition to rows of cars and motorcycles, Honda also set up a dirt track demo area (complete with hay bales!) where kids ages 6 – 12 could learn how to ride a Honda dirt bike. I’m way past the age limit, but it looked like a lot of fun.

These promotional aspects of title sponsorship not only align well with Honda’s rich racing history, but also its ultimate mission which is to sell more cars, motorcycles, ATVs and so on.

2018 Honda Indy Toronto

And the company isn’t afraid to spend large sums of money to make it happen.

In addition to Honda Canada’s efforts in Toronto, its U.S. counterpart, American Honda, sponsors three IndyCar races: Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course near Columbus, Ohio, and Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.

Company executives believe investments made in racing – which also includes building engines for about half of the IndyCar field via its racing arm, Honda Performance Development (HPD) – is money well spent because of its symbiotic relationship with production car development.

“I speak from experience because I’m from Honda R&D. I spent the first 24 years of my career at [there]. We have several people from the production car side that work at HPD. If you look at some of our sports car (race) engines, they’re actually production-car based engines,” said HPD president Art St. Cyr in an interview.

2018 Honda Indy Toronto

 

All about raceday

While I was walking around mid-afternoon on Saturday, the crowd looked a bit sparse in Thunder Alley and in the grandstands, but the wet, overcast weather and time of day had a lot to do with that.

It was a different story on Sunday. I arrived at the track around 9:20 am because I wanted to see the various support races and watch the place fill up as the start of the Honda Indy Toronto at 3:30 pm drew closer. And it sure did fill up.

It was already warm and sunny when I arrived, and it only got hotter as the day went on. Thankfully, the media centre was air-conditioned because it was steamy everywhere else, including the Enercare Centre which I had to walk through to get to the grid. Peak temperatures were in the low 30C-range and it felt hotter than that with humidity reaching 68 percent.

Walking the grid before a race begins is one of the coolest perks of being at the track. Not only is it great for taking photos, but it provides an up-close look at the final preparations of race teams as they get ready to go racing. Engines are test-fired, tire pressures are set, and pit equipment is checked while drivers get themselves ready to go racing.

2018 Honda Indy Toronto

Seeing all this activity on-track – fans and media, mixing with crews, race officials and photographers – gives the event a real sense of pageantry. Watching parachutists with Canadian flags fly in overhead as the anthems play and a military flyover capping it off really excites the crowd, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get a bit of a rise out of this veteran racing observer.

Not long after the anthems and pre-race pomp finished, engines were fired up and the Honda Indy Toronto was underway in front of a big, enthusiastic crowd. The grandstands along turns 10, 11 and overlooking the pitlane were packed with spectators, their passion matched by the skill and precision of the drivers on track.

As for the race itself, it was an exciting and eventful affair won by Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing. The victory is the third of Dixon’s career in Toronto, all of which have come since 2013.

The homegrown drivers turned in good performances on home soil with Robert Wickens of Guelph finishing third, his teammate James Hinchcliffe of Oakville right behind in fourth, and Zachary Claman De Melo of Montreal climbing to 14th after starting 23rd.

2018 Honda Indy Toronto

It was also quite a bit of fun for yours truly. I really enjoyed visiting with old friends and taking in some great racing while also dusting off old passions.

I’m not sure if I’ll go back next year, but even if I don’t it was good to get reacquainted with the Honda Indy Toronto.

The event really meant something to me once and, as I discovered, it still does.

2018 Honda Indy Toronto Drivers

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