Back in the 1960s and 1970s there were holes in the track at Terre Haute and Eldora that nearly swallowed sprint cars whole. But the show went on and drivers either figured out how to negotiate those ruts or got upside down trying.
The dust was so bad at midget and sprint races in those days that drivers used light poles inside the turns to gauge when to back off the throttle and get slowed down to make the corner.
Mario Andretti won the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix in such wicked weather that Niki Lauda pulled out of the monsoon-like conditions and, consequently, lost the world championship.
Those conditions would be termed barbaric today but they were simply the way it was back then. A driver either dealt with it or turned in his helmet.
Which brings us to Saturday’s Honda Indy Toronto.
It was raining, but never pouring and more of a steady mist that occasionally got stronger. It wasn’t aquaplane-bad and there weren’t rivers running across the street circuit like at Elkhart Lake a few years ago.
The drivers went out for parade and pace laps and found the spray back on Lakeshore Blvd. to be blinding at 50mph. During the next two hours, they came in, got red-flagged, tried to start but didn’t because of an accident. Even though the rain would periodically stop or be reduced to spitting, it was decided to postpone the first of two races shortly after 6 p.m.
Many of the veteran drivers applauded Race Control for that decision, while a couple of hungry, young rookies like Jack Hawksworth and Mikhail Aleshin couldn’t believe they weren’t racing.
“This isn’t even considered rain where I come from,” said Aleshin, who cut his teeth in Europe, beating current F1 Red Bull hotshot Daniel Ricciardo to the Formula Renault 3.5 title. “It was difficult to see but I think if we’d have run a couple laps it would have cleared things off and been just fine. I mean, we’re race drivers, this is what we do and I think we should have raced.”
I couldn’t agree more. Everybody has a throttle and a brake, they didn’t have to run balls-out at the start, just take it easy and try to get through a few laps. Drive to what the conditions permitted.
To be fair, IndyCar did try to start only to see Will Power crash coming out of the last corner before the race could go green. And, yeah, I know it’s a street course and it doesn’t drain like a road course and the wake created by high downforce cars causes this massive visibility problem.
It might also help if Firestone built a good rain tire. Their oval, road course and street tires are the best, reliable and durable but, according to drivers, they had a decent rain tire a couple years ago and changed it. For the worse. A good rain tire with deep grooves would make everybody’s life easier and hopefully Firestone will revisit the design.
But the bottom line is that if IndyCar couldn’t race in Saturday’s conditions, it can’t race in the rain and shouldn’t advertise itself as the poor man’s answer to Formula 1.
“New rule, #IndyCar will run road races in the rain as long as there is no spray…#joke”
Mario is old school, just like A.J. Foyt, who rolled his eyes when told how treacherous things were. He conquered Langhorne, Salem and Ascot Park with no cage, no protection and no backing off.
Racing is safer than it’s ever been and that’s a good thing. But taking risks and dealing with the elements like Saturday is a big part of why people watch or attend or care. If it wasn’t dangerous, why would we care? If it didn’t require a special skill, why couldn’t anyone do it?
Derrick Walker and his stewards had a difficult decision to make and they opted to listen to the majority of the drivers.
In talking about protecting drivers and fans alike, Walker asked: “Do we want a good race or are we gladiators?”
My answer would be that IndyCar is the most diverse and fastest series going with some great racing. And driver safety is paramount. But let’s don’t kid ourselves, it needs the gladiator element. That’s what made it so popular in the ’60s and ’70s. That’s why A.J., Parnelli, Mario, Dan Gurney, Lone Star J.R. and the Unsers remain revered decades after they stopped driving.
They thrived and survived in a lethal era and we were in awe of their bravado as much as their talent.
And that gunfighter mentality no longer exists.
Make no mistake, there are plenty of ballsy racers in the Verizon IndyCar Series and they take plenty of chances during a season. And they have to horse their cars around with no power steering and thread the needle at places like Toronto. However, today it’s more measured, more calculated and less caution to the wind.
That was obvious Saturday. They had a chance to thrill people, but they chose to play it safe.
Those patient, loyal Canadian fans sat through hours of rain and were never told anything over the PA system. They deserved to see IndyCar’s best shot at dealing with a tough hand. Instead, they got a day of false starts and confusion.
Promoters are going to honor Saturday’s tickets on Sunday but the forecast calls for rain again so why would the fans think anything’s going to be different?