Well, this is Honda Indy weekend in Toronto, and from a distance it seems to me this race is in big-time rebuilding mode.
It used to be a major event on the calendar in T.O. -- and then came the infamous CART-IRL split, and then Molson exited as the title sponsor, then CART was replaced by ChampCar and all the defections of drivers to the IRL began, and then in 2008 ChampCar folded into the IRL, leaving Toronto without a race.
Last year, the race came back under the IRL banner with the ownership of Michael Andretti and Honda title sponsorship, but apparently there was terrible promotion and a lot of little things done wrong to make the fans all irate -- such as banning water bottles and outside food from the track. Attendance was also in the tank, down to 20,000.
So I guess the series is trying to rebuild its good name in Toronto. I sure hope it makes a comeback -- I was a big fan of the old Molson Indy when it was going and it was one of those events that I always looked forward to going to in the summer. Heck, it ought to be able to get some fans showing up. Now that it's IndyCar, all the top open-wheel drivers are back at the event. But I guess there are still some Toronto die-hards who won't support the IndyCar series and are still mad at the IRL for running the former ChampCar series into the ground and wiping out the 2008 race.
I suspect the event itself, apart from all the other problems that apparently plagued it last year, has fallen victim to the usual bandwagon-jumping syndrome that afflicts the folks in Toronto. They just want to go to what's trendy, and right now the Indy is enjoying a well-deserved stay in the doghouse due to all the previous on-track problems. Besides, the fans' big hero Paul Tracy has fallen on hard times, racing-wise, and I think that has also affected things a great deal.
In fact, just the other day they made general admission free for everyone on Friday, which shows you how far the race has fallen. In the old days they never would have allowed people in for free on a Friday. It just strikes me as a desperate thing for them to do, but if it succeeds in turning people on to racing and IndyCar, fine. The reason I went to my first Molson Indy was because I got in for free on a Friday thanks to a free pass coupon I won through a promotion at the SUNOCO gas station in London, Ontario. So I guess a similar stunt worked for me and ended up reeling me in, so hopefully this will pay dividends down the road.
Here's an article on this year's race from the Sun, plus Ted Woloshyn had a few comments of his own. Also, here's Alex Tagliani's thoughts about a five-year plan to restore Indy racing in Toronto. And for a Globe and Mail story on today's qualifying round attendance, which indicates that apparently this race looks to still be in the doghouse -- check it out here.