Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wrapup: Last Weekend in August

As with the end of July, there was plenty of amazing action going on at racetracks across North America and beyond this past weekend. ALMS put on an interesting show at Mosport that flagged when a Porsche nearly vaulted into the forests of Ontario. Grand Am experienced more of the historical domination of Ganassi Racing and the team of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. NASCAR's Nationwide Series was turned over to the twisty specialists as Boris Said pipped Max Papis by inches at the line in Montréal. None of that matters, though, because IndyCars took over Joliet, IL, for a fantastic show in what looked to be their final run there, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was open for business for the final time in 2010 with two-wheeled action.

Wrapup: MotoGP Indianapolis Grand Prix

Honestly, there are few things in the world that can be more exciting that motorcycle road racing. Two guys (or girls) dueling wheel-to-wheel with real danger of serious injury (more on that in a moment) is the thing that made motor racing so interesting to spectators in the first place. IndyCar commentators -- myself included -- like to tout how amazing it can be to watch a couple of open-wheel cars bump in the turns at 200 m.p.h., but to have guys go side-by-side at 200 m.p.h. with nothing but a leather suit and some body armor protecting them is just crazy. "Woah" moments in an IndyCar race become "Woah"-followed by a pile of swear words when these bikes get too close for comfort.

One level of MotoGP's championships has got it completely right: Moto2, with 40 entrants riding absolutely identical bikes looking for a spot in the ultra-exclusive upper tier. It's a recipe for pure chaos and plenty of "holy crap" moments, and to watch in person is absurdly thrilling. After eight bikes managed to find themselves occupying the same space on the side of the track in the second turn of this afternoon's Moto2 race, the race got underway and never stopped thrilling. The top three bikes broke away from the rest of the pack and diced for several laps before former MotoGP rider Toni Elias channeled his inner '91 Andretti/Mears and decided to make an outside pass in the road course's sweeping first turn for the winning move. In the meantime, riders behind them were going three-wide and pushing their bikes over the edge; the most notable incident involved one rider being pitched into a high-side accident, followed by the bike's fuel tank splitting and unused fuel turning the infield road course into a brief firestorm.

Unfortunately, though it certainly has the potential to be extremely exciting, the MotoGP World Championship race got strung out a bit early and never did bunch back up. More unfortunately, the only rider in the entire series that I truly dislike, Dani Pedrosa, was the only one who found his way past surprise polesitter Ben Spies (born in Tenessee, raised in Texas) for the victory. Again, Pedrosa and the Repsol Honda Team bosses seemed to do their best to ruin Nicky Hayden's chances for success, even during Hayden's world championship run in 2006, and they eventually got their way as Nicky left on awful terms and had to spend a year trying to figure out the completely different Ducati. Pedrosa used the Honda's brilliant straight-line speed and superior race-craft to beat Spies down the main straight on Lap 8 and he never looked back. Nicky Hayden had a rough start from the third spot, then got a touch too deep into a corner, catching one of his knee sliders (vital equipment for the on-edge cornering these guys do) on a curb and separating it from his suit; he hung on to take 6th. Other notables were were runaway points leader Jorge Lorenzo (3rd), Valentino Rossi (4th), and third American Colin Edwards (DNF, tire issues).

On a low note, condolences go out from everyone in the racing world to the family and friends of Peter Lenz, 13-year-old U.S. Grand Prix Riders' Union rider, who low-sided on the slippery track on that race's warm-up lap and was then struck by another bike, receiving fatal injuries. It's not clear what the exact nature of the injuries were or when he officially passed, but the incident was not pretty -- it was immediately clear that, even had Lenz survived, his life would have been irrevocably changed for the worse. Again, the safety of motor racing will be brought into question, especially with so young a rider taken away; however, it was clear by their reactions that these riders all understand the danger of the profession they've chosen and, most telling, Lenz' parents indicated their understanding and acknowledgement of the dangers in their own statement. It was, by far, the Speedway's youngest fatality, and its first since Tony Renna's 2003 IRL tire test incident in the northeast turn. Rest in peace, Pete...

Now, from the heavy-hearted to the heart-stopping...

Wrapup: Peak Antifreeze Indy 300

It became abundantly clear when NASCAR released the schedules for their top three series that 28 August 2010 would be the final time for a long while that IndyCars would take to Joliet's 1.5-mile superspeedway. I understand that the IndyCar/International Speedway Corp. war has quietly festered in the background as Randy Bernard re-evaluated the series' schedule and began to speak out on the races at Kansas and Homestead for lack of promotion and excitement. The promotion aspect reared its head again last night as maybe 20,000 people showed up for the race, and ISC has essentially scheduled the IndyCar Series out of one of its best events.

From the drop of the green flag, the action only stopped three times: Alex Lloyd brain fart #1 (punted Tomas Scheckter into both the wall and Rafa Matos), a wall brush by Ana Beatriz and several hundred brain farts under the caution, and Alex Lloyd brain fart #2 (oversteered out of turn 4 and mowed the lawn a bit in the tri-oval). On the final caution period, Dario Franchitti's crew did something marginally ridiculous and didn't give Dario fresh tires, putting him out of the pits in first place. When the drivers behind him decided to go two-wide for a while, Dario took his car off the white line and drove between the first and second grooves, which made it essentially impossible for the guys behind him to get by. Bang, Zoom, Victory for Dario.

In the meantime, I'd almost forgotten what the pee-your-pants ovals look like, and Chicagoland Speedway's IndyCar swansong provided a healthy reminder of how it is. There were always cars going two-wide, one of the more thrilling moments was a three-wide battle with Dan Wheldon on the bottom, Marco Andretti on the top, and Will Power fighting desperately to keep his car between the two, and even a four-wide moment or two. Cars were cutting across the track, looking for places to get past, they were doing the inches-apart thing several times per lap, and they all again somehow managed to keep everyone going in a straight line. One's heart almost never beats for the entire two hours and the end makes you realize just how long you've been holding your breath. It's absolutely a point.

The major problem is that, while these guys and gals run side-by-side for what seems like hours, they have trouble passing each other. The issue stems mostly from the fact that the engines are de-tuned, so when a driver catches a draft, there are no extra revs in the motor to really propel the car into the draft. Think on it: the last time we had real draft-and-pass battles at Indianapolis was when Hondas, Toyotas, and Chevys were sharing space on the track and Honda hadn't yet tuned the engines down as a PR stunt. However, if Honda insists on falsely creating reliability, there is still a solution: pop a one-inch-thick piece of metal perpendicular to the ground on the end of the rear wing. CART did this for a couple of years, though to a much greater extent than what I described, and the results were clear: the drag on the lead car mixed with the massive hole in the air created insane amounts of passing on every oval track. CART's strip of metal (the Handford Device) was so big that it became almost ridiculous, but a scaled down version of the same concept might just give the following car just enough advantage to turn some of this two-wide into actual passes.

As it is, we continue on with another insane oval that promises much of the same action as Chicagoland this coming Saturday. Labor Day weekend will kick off in Sparta, KY, and kick the final stretch of three races off in style. Until then, many happy returns!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wrapup: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

Well, circumstance has put me in the entirely awkward position of having to try and do a wrapup of a race based on nothing but what I've read from other writers across the interwebs. I have no Versus and I have no DVR, plus I was at work during the entire race. However, as someone with nothing better to do, I'll go ahead and try to make this train wreck happen.

First off, we've heard plenty of criticism of just about everything as we go through this doldrums of three relatively boring twisty tracks during a part of the year where all sports seem to struggle to hold the interest of fans. We've had two weeks to go over The Block, which is the only thing that made Edmonton noteworthy, and I'm frankly tired of it and I've even gotten tired of Barnhart-bashing. Somehow, people are still asking questions about why Milka Duno continues to drive even though she's supposedly on probation (hint: the name "Citgo" on her sidepods helps quite a bit); that's a situation that should resolve itself in October. Everyone still seems to be piling on the fine folks at Dallara, though the teams seem to have a legitimate gripe on that front (they're apparently getting no information on how this "safety cell" is supposed to actually look and behave). Finally, we look at the schedule and see Mid-Ohio and Sonoma next to each other and I think most of us want to take a nap just thinking about that.

Certainly, as Mike King and Bob Jenkins will drill into your skull, Mid-Ohio is a lovely facility. A neat ribbon of asphalt laced over a set of rolling hills in northern Ohio sounds like a fine place to spend a weekend and listen to noisy engines go by. The trouble, as with all facilities of this pedigree, is that passing is at a premium, and that doesn't translate to TV at all. Driver skill is rewarded through the winding back section of the track, but the aero-dependency and lack of power in these cars means that, once you've caught the guy/girl ahead of you, you'll have a devil of a time getting past. As I said, I never did watch the race in full, but I've seen highlights of the last lap, ad it seems like Will Power (who I think is a superior road racer to Dario Franchitti) just could not get close enough to make a serious passing attempt.

Thus, Dario, through the superior work of his pit crew, managed to beat Power to the checkered flag by a cool half-a-second. I think it's almost safe to say that, somehow, Dario has been quiet in lurking around in second place in the championship. He's now only won twice and, although it was the Indianapolis 500, that first win was entirely overshadowed by Mike Conway's massive accident that ended the race. However, while people seem to dwell on the job security of the Penske drivers (save Power) or how much money KV Racing has wasted on broken cars this year or the dramas involving other drivers running into each other, then tweeting about it, that #10 car has been consistently lurking in the background, waiting for an opportunity to strike.

With only one road course (Sonoma), two bleed-out-your-ears-fast ovals (Kentucky and Chicagoland), and two "driver's ovals" (Motegi and Homestead) remaining on the schedule, that 41-point cushion that Will has over Dario in the points standings seems a lot smaller than it did after Will took the win at Toronto.

In other news at Mid-Ohio, some drivers that seemed to have their luck run out in June and July made some waves, and there was one name floating around the top ten most of the day that might make some people sit up and say "who?" Simona de Silvestro, who started her post-Indianapolis run literally on fire at Texas, watched the results slip away from her as the "J" months went on, capped by getting speared out of sixth place at Edmonton; at Mid-O, she drove solidly and safely to a nice eighth place result. Alex Tagliani had been opening eyes with his brand new team through the early parts of the season, including a massive qualifying day at Indianapolis, but the copper-wheeled FAZZT car was nowhere to be seen for the last couple of months; he led a good portion of the race through pit strategy and finished a solid fourth. Finally, Bertrand Baguette, who came into the league as a complete unknown, spent a good portion of the race in tenth, holding off Ryan Hunter-Reay (who, admittedly, had a bad car after pit lane contact with Helio Castroneves), before succumbing to RHR and finishing eleventh.

Finally, Kevin Kalkhoven would be bashing his head against a wall, but he probably had to sell the wall to finance yet another set of broken cars. Takuma Sato would be in fantastic shape points-wise if he'd just stop running into stuff; he tried a bonzai pass on Dario early on and the car just sort of kept going until the tire wall stopped him. E.J. Viso put a cap on Justin Wilson's awful weekend by being a little too optimistic on one of his pass attempts, sending both cars back to the haulers.

The teams will be making the big cross-country trip to wine country for the Indy GP of Sonoma on August 22. Much fermented grape juice will be consumed to wipe our memories clean of how dull that race is likely to be.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Bermuda Pennsylvania Triangle

Jimmy Spencer, notable for being a fat, loudmouthed buffoon of a NASCAR driver who became a fat, loudmouthed buffoon of a Speed Channel commentator, has decided in this week's leadup to NASCAR's Pensylvania 500 to call out the Mattioli Family, owners of Pocono Raceway, on their lack of safety improvements to the facility.

Text of Spencer's column may be found HERE.

Certainly, I'd like all racetracks to be as safe as humanly possible so that we can have incidents such as Mike Conway's at Indianapolis, which could've easily killed a driver about 20 years ago, and the driver still has their life and their career. Spencer cites the efforts of Speedway Motorsports, Inc, and International Speedway Corp. -- admittedly a good deal richer than the Mattiolis -- in improving their tracks after complaints come up about safety or fan amenities.

The Mattiolis, perhaps because they don't have the vast resources of these larger companies, have put in SAFER Barriers in the turns, but that's about it. The inside of every piece of the track, save the pit area, is lined with an old-style Armco barrier. Apart from spectator areas and the area that crosses the infield access tunnel, there is no catch fencing on the outside of the track. Case-in-point: Kasey Kahne's car rode the top of the wall on the final lap of the Pocono 500 and, had physics not been so kind, could have fallen off the track and into a forest. Just for some reference, deaths such as Jim Clark's were caused by a car going into a forest.

Now, since this is a NASCAR track and Spencer is a NASCAR commentator, this is all very taxicab-centric for the moment. HOWEVER!! Pocono Raceway used to be a staple of the IndyCar championship with both USAC and CART. It was one of three tracks in the Triple Crown of 500-mile races back in the "good ol' days". The list of IndyCar Pocono 500 winners reads like a hall of fame of American open-wheelers (and Teo Fabi).

Plus, it's easily the single coolest oval track in the nation. Whereas most tracks are based on old horse racing ovals, clones of Charlotte, or smaller versions of Daytona, Pocono is one of the lone holdouts from an era of entirely unique oval tracks. It has three wildly different turns, one based on Trenton's first turn, one based on any of Indianapolis' four corners, and one based on Milwaukee's flat sweepers. Engineers acclimated to the cookie-cutters that essentially have two identical corners glued to each other by straightaways or tri-ovals are given fits over the design lunacy of Pocono. You have to be a heck of a driver to take on the challenge of Pocono and survive.

Tying this all back together, one of the chief reasons IndyCars can't drive at Pocono is the fact that, should there be a crash, someone will probably have their career end. A few other details, like rough pavement are not quite as bad and easier to fix, but that safety issue is something that needs fixing. Do that and Pocono is suddenly opened back up to the world of open-wheel. Randy Bernard seems to be on a push for unique short ovals to really challenge the drivers, but he should really consider the world's most unique superspeedway if the management ever finds the time to make the improvements that their property so desperately needs.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Über-Wrapup: The Last Sunday in July

To be honest, this past Sunday, the final day of rest of this seventh month of 2010, was hardly a day of rest for those of us who like to watch motorized things move quickly. Above, you see the three tracks on this half of the globe that saw major action this past season: Laguna Seca, Edmonton City Centre Airport, and The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This, of course, is usually an IndyCar blog, so the inclusion of the Edmonton race is vital. I'm going to write up MotoGP because, frankly, I think it's one of the greatest shows on a racetrack, they come to Indianapolis in a month, and this was their other trip to the States. I'm going to write up the Brickyard 400 because it was at the Speedway, and because I was there.

Wrapup: MotoGP United States Grand Prix

Here's the order in which I rank the top of my list of great American auto racing tracks: 1) Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 2) Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. To watch cars climb up and fall down the sudden hills of earthquake-tumbled north-central California is absolutely mesmerizing. The thought of guys on two-wheeled, 200-m.p.h. rocketships navigating these hills seems absolutely insane.

What makes MotoGP races interesting, especially in this 2010 season, is that the riders behind the leader will generally keep up until something drastic happens. Several times, someone has pulled off an exciting late pass or someone at the top of the field will crack under the pressure and fall from their bike. In past 2010 rounds, the beneficiary of others' mistakes has generally been young Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo.

At this year's U.S. Grand Prix, he drove a fantastic race and forced yet another mistake from the rider in front. This time around, it was Dani Pedrosa -- who I will never forgive for essentially forcing former champ Nicky Hayden from his ride at Honda -- who fell into a low-side accident in turn 5, just before the run up the hill to the Corkscrew. Lorenzo drove off for the rest of the race and, as he is wont to do, celebrated in unique fashion. In other races, he's taken a flag bearing his personal logo and planted it in the sandtrap; since it was the U.S. Grand Prix, Lorenzo put on a moon landing outfit and did a slow astronaut walk to his flag planting.

For the home team, Nicky Hayden, Ben Spies, and Colin Edwards finished 5th, 6th, and 7th, respectively. Nicky's brother Roger Lee Hayden came eleventh in his first race replacing Randy de Puniet, who broke a leg in a nasty wreck last week.

MotoGP takes a quick trip to Brno in the Czech Republic before returning to the States and racing around the Indianapolis road course. You know I'll be there.

Wrapup: Brickyard 400

One of the beautiful things about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is that, even when the place is about three-fifths full, it still draws one of the biggest crowds of NASCAR's season. I've heard many excuses from people as to why the crowds of 250-300,000 no longer make an appearance at the Brickyard, but I have two reasons that I can name off the top of my head: 1) Like F1, a ridiculous tire controversy had a very negative effect on fan perception, and 2) When the choice is given to pay $85 to sit in the first 10 rows in the heat and barely see anything or sit in the AC and watch on TV for free, it's no contest. The same problem is starting to take hold at the Indianapolis 500 as well, so it's high time Jeff Belskus and Co. start to have a look at the dynamics of supply and demand when it comes to bad seats at The Speedway.

Anyway, as far as the race itself was concerned, it has become fairly clear that Chip Ganassi and his crew have the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on lockdown. Dario Franchitti's car in The 500 was absolutely perfect, and Juan Montoya's car was damn near perfect for most of the 400. Then, when Montoya's car went completely wrong after a new set of tires was put on, Ganassi's other driver, Jamie McMurray was there to pick up the pieces. If the Chipster were to start a bike team and show up at the MotoGP race, he'd probably win that too; he's starting to achieve Penske-like status at the top of The Speedway's great owners.

Also of note, for the first time since NASCAR changed over to their new car design, the racing was pretty darn good. A lot of IndyCar fans will look at the Brickyard and say, "Psh...those cars can't pass each other; they go around in a single-file line". Well, I went to both races this year, and I might go so far as to say the NASCAR race provided more passing than IndyCar has in the last two years. The reason is that the management took the stupid, ugly wing, which made the cars very aero-dependent, off the back of the car and replaced it with a giant, flat piece of metal that gives the cars the aerodynamics of a brick. The new spoiler provides a massive hole in the air and, if you can catch the slipstream, it's game-on.

Finally -- and take note, IndyCar -- these heavy, un-aerodynamic cars have to have their throttle feathered through the turns, meaning the driver that gets the power down better off the corner WILL pass the car in front. Case in point: Check out this here poorly-focused photo of Kevin Harvick passing Jamie McMurray for the lead before the halfway point of the straightaway after getting the power down sooner off of Turn 4. Robin Miller can be a dolt sometimes, but he has a penchant for being correct about a lot of things; when he says the IndyCars need to be more powerful and less stuck, things like this are the reasons he is absolutely right.

And one more thing: even though you can't see the turns so well, the south end of the Tower Terrace is a pretty neat place to watch a race. You get a great view of the start and finish and you can run to Section 37 to watch the victory celebration, you can watch pit stops (which is a bunch of coreographed chaos in NASCAR), and you can watch drivers set up their passes. I have my good ol' B-Stand seats for the 2011 500, but I might move to the Terrace for 2012.

Wrapup: Honda Edmonton Indy

Refer back to my photo of the WTF orangutan from Sunday for my reaction to this one.

I figured, when the IndyCar race was getting ready to start on the radio as I drove home from the Speedway, that it would be normal Edmonton fare, with Will Power grabbing P1 by the scruff of the neck (hold that metaphor in your mind for a bit...) and running off with things. For the first three-quarters of the race, that prediction was absolutely correct. Power lapped the field up to 11th place before a late string of yellow flags saved other drivers from the #12 car.

Then, for reasons I don't entirely understand, Team Penske decided to throw the low-grip black tires on Power's car and set up what was the most controversial moment in recent IndyCar memory.

Some simple tire physics for you: a harder-compound tire has less grip. Power was obviously struggling with the tires compared to teammate Helio Castroneves and his red tires, and Helio caught and passed him relatively quickly. Then a caution came out when Alex Lloyd's car broke and came to a stop in one of the tight "infield" turns on the Edmonton circuit. On the restart, everyone and their mothers knew what was coming: Power needed a good start to get past Helio quickly on his inferior tires, but Helio was going to defend that position come hell or high water.

All of that is exactly what happened, except that Helio didn't swerve across the road or anything; he simply drove down the inside of the front stretch so Will could not. Will would have had the position if he'd been able to get the power down because he had a line that allowed better acceleration out of the corner; instead, he spun his wheels a bit, allowing Helio to escape and Scott Dixon to slide into second. When it initially happened, it looked for all the world like an exciting bit of three-lap-to-go racing. But, as we all know, exciting racing isn't what the Great Iron Hand of Justice is all about...

Seriously, what kind of egomaniacal, ignorant fool does it take to make a rule that says you're not allowed to cleanly defend your position on the inside line if you're in the lead of a race with three laps to go and the best driver in the field on your tail?! Likewise, what sort of moron would create such a rule, then never actually enforce it until the only exciting thing to ever happen at an Edmonton race actually happens?! Really, drivers are prohibited, by rule, from driving down the inside of the track to prevent other cars from diving in to make a pass? Has Brian Barnhart ever actually watched an IndyCar oval race? Everyone drives down the inside of the straightaways because the cars are so stuck to the ground that they can! The preferred line at Texas is to go halfway down the backstretch, then glue your car to the solid white line on the inside to prevent the driver behind from passing! At Indianapolis, if you have a fast car behind you, you drive down the inside of the straightaway to prevent them from getting by! One of the most exciting finishes in the history of The 500 was in 1989, where Al Unser, Jr, tried his damndest to put Emerson Fittipaldi into the grass so that Emmo wouldn't pass him!

Here's a neat definition of "blocking": slicing in front of someone who is trying to make a pass in such a way that it could cause an accident. If you'd like to see this sometime, watch an F1 race and you'll see it about 9,000 times. What Helio did was simply prevent -- in a completely safe fashion -- Will from gaining the inside line. When Will cut to the outside, Helio stayed where he was and dared Will to try what would have been an absolutely thrilling pass.

Therefore, with all the fire and brimstone that I can muster from the deep, dark, most rotten depths of my soul, I blow my Yellow Shirt Whistle at Brian Barnhart, the single worst chief steward/commissioner in the history of professional sports. I wish nothing but the swiftest and most painful of firings upon this clueless mound of worthlessness. We've sat through 15 years of his officiating, micro-managing, and awful decisions, and he's finally dropped the final straw onto the camel's back. Get him out of here...NOW!

Oh, by the way, Scott Dixon was gifted the win when the IRL stopped scoring Castroneves. Simona de Silvestro was the star of the show, with a great qualifying effort and some good racing keeping her in the top ten most of the day; she got punted by E.J. Viso to knock her out of the race.

IndyCar is in Mid-Ohio in two weeks. MotoGP takes over The Speedway in four weeks. NASCAR can leave these pages once again now that their annual trip to Indianapolis is over. It's getting to be driver, team, and schedule silly season, so I'll try to keep you updated. Until next time, cheers!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Week From Hell

Okay...I have a feeling I might be dead by bedtime on Sunday.

See, I've purchased myself $90 worth of Tower Terrace seat for this Sunday's running of the Brickyard 400. I figured if The Speedway is going to pay the sanctioning fee for events like the Brickyard and the MotoGP race, I might as well put some discretionary income into their bank account; few things are worth the money more than a day at The Speedway, in my opinion. I like watching motorized objects move fast (even if it's 50 m.p.h. slower than an IndyCar), and I love the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so these are easy decisions to make.

Slight problem: Sunday may be the busiest racing day of the entire year. 8AM: F1 in Deutschland, 1PM: Brickyard 400, 5PM: MotoGP U.S. Grand Prix, 6 PM: Honda Edmonton Indy. Simply, there's no way in hell I will be able to watch all of the racing this weekend, even though I desperately want to. At this point, I'm just hoping to get home from the Brickyard in time to watch the Edmonton race.

On top of all of this, I'm moving out of my current apartment in Bloomington, the lease for which ends on Saturday. On top of that, after three weeks of pretty much nothing going on, the work piles on in epic fashion this week. I'll be lucky to rattle out an Edmonton/USGP/Brickyard preview on Saturday night, and there's no way in hell I'll be able to liveblog Edmonton.

Just thought I'd share all that with you because I felt the need to describe this hellish weekend to the masses.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pseudo-Live Blog: Honda Indy Toronto

The IndyCar circus rolls onto the lovely shores of Lake Ontario for a street race around Toronto's Exhibition Place. A tight track which is both technical and fast at varying times with a very tight turn 3 that will produce most of the day's action.

Last year was the IndyCar Series' first visit to the famous Champ Car, and they put on a pretty good show in spite of the slower and wider cars. Hometown boy Paul Tracy scythed his way through the field and was fighting for the lead with Helio Castroneves when the two drove a bit...aggressively into and out of turn 3, resulting in heavy contact for both drivers. Paul will have a chance to make it exciting again today, starting in the 24th position.

The major story of the weekend so far is the speed of Justin Wilson, who put down some scorching laps during the qualifying session on the supposedly less-grippy "black" tires. Those scorching laps allowed him to use only one set of the sticky "red" tires and conserve a couple of sets of reds for the race. All that mumbo jumbo about tires means this: Justin Wilson will be a force on the streets of Exhibition Place. However...

Winner: Will Power Will starts on the outside of the front row. He's the boss on twisty tracks this year, so I'm not going to stop backing him to win these races.

Dark Horse: Rafael Matos I'm having a hard time picking my dark horses today because of the way the field is laid out; all the drivers who can be considered favorites are at the front of the grid. After last race's neat fourth-place finish, we'll see if Rafa can keep up the momentum.

Ninja Dark Horse: Paul Tracy I just want to see him kill the field from his 24th starting should make the viewing interesting. He's always good in front of the home crowd too.

The engines have been fired (on a command from Greg Kinnear no less), and we're about ready to roll! Live blogging on the way...

12:58, pre-race
Fireworks go off as the field completes its first parade lap. Killer awesome weather on the northwest shore of Lake excuse not to be outside for the citizens of Toronto today.

Lap 1
We are....GREEN! Wilson fires away into the lead, Power follows, RHR into third. Back further in the field, Danica making some moves.

Lap 2
Power closing the gap a bit...Wheldon in for a new wing. As Pressdog might say, the reason is...oh, it IS our business! Wheldon locked 'em up and nailed a KV car, according to replay.

Lap 4
Hunter-Reay had dropped back at some point and was caught in a battle for fourth with Dixon. RHR made a nice move into turn 3.

Lap 5
Reports of Will Power being in second were greatly exaggerated...he's in sixth, while Helio is in second. An honest mistake, as the cars look pretty similar.

Lap 7
No clue what happened to Power on the first lap, apart from dropping back four spots.

Lap 10
Wilson, Helio, Dario, RHR Dixon, Power, Kanaan, Tags, Briscoe, and Patrick are your top 10. If you had Lap 10 as the lap Milka gets lapped in your betting pool, you win!

Lap 13
Most of the field has settled a bit. If interest: Paul Tracy is up to 18th position, but he's been caught behind Tomas Scheckter for a while.

Lap 17
Blowin' my Yellow Shirt whistle on Mario Moraes, who hip-checks his teammate Sato into the wall on the entrance to turn 3...Moraes really moved over too far on the setup for the turn. Marco Andretti says "I TOLD YOU SO" ..and we are...YELLOW!

Lap 19
Pit Stops! Everyone and their mothers in for fresh ethanol and Firestones...except Paul Tracy and Vitor Meira. Helio, Dario, Power, Wilson your first four off the pit lane. DUN DUN DUNNN! Paul Tracy could be in great shape if he gets a nice caution in 15 or 20 laps.

Lap 22
We are...GREEN! Sato gives a very happy-go-lucky assessment of teammate Moraes just before the flag...KV Racing is a happy place. WOAH WOAH WOAAAA! Helio goes way too hot into turn 3 and nails the back of Meira. Helio's car is buried deep into the turn 3 tire barrier....who knows how well the driver is feeling...

Lap 23
Oh thank God...Helio climbs out of the car and appears to be relatively okay. Replay shows that Helio pulled out right as Vitor was on his brakes; Helio didn't have enough time to get alongside and he clipped Meira. Without any traction, Helio couldn't do anything but smash hard into the tires.

Lap 24
For those of you who complain about Dallara getting the contract to build the base chassis for 2012, I present this incident as a reason: Helio and his car look pretty darn good considering they barreled into a tire barrier at a good 100 miles per hour.

Lap 25
Helio says the new tires and push-to-pass had him moving a lot faster than Meira into the braking zone and it is what it is...tough break.

Lap 26
We are...GREEN! Tracy like a cannon into turn 1. Again, the field stacks up behind Meira. Trouble! Turn 1; Alex Lloyd busted into the turn 1 tires. Near contact amongst the leaders as Franchitti and Power try to get past Meira. We are...(again) YELLOW!

Lap 31
By the way, we've essentially been yellow for about 13 laps, and Paul Tracy is just saaaavin' fuel. He may even do a 1-stop race at this point.

Lap 32
We are...GREEN! Dario makes the move on Tracy into turn 3. Meira getting passed left and right. Aaaaaand we're yellow again. Whistle blows again on Mario Moraes, who tried to outbrake the entire field going into three and takes out Romancini. Moraes is a complete menace on the track today; two incidents of "avoidable contact" taking out two other cars means he should be sidelined.

Lap 34
Paul Tracy decides he's bored with running under yellow, decides to pit in order to liven things up. Fuel and tires for Paul on a hellishly long pit stop. He'll be at the back of the field. Moraes given a slap on the wrist for his dumbass driving.

Lap 36
We are...GREEN! Dixon all over Kanaan for fifth, but no dice. Danica takes ninth from Tags. Oh my god, we have...COMPLETED A LAP!!!

Lap 38
Sike...Tags back in front of Danica. She's getting a lot of pressure from Rafa Matos. Dixon was OHSOCLOSE to passing Dixon; nearly contact, but they gave each other the space.

Lap 39
Dixon takes Kanaan for fifth. A good, clean fight by both drivers.

Lap 41
ABC has some really neat camera angles that they only use in the side-by-side...oh well. By the way, Marco really wants seventh from Ryan Briscoe.

Lap 42
There seems to be less and less asphalt between Dario and Will Power with every lap. Romancini gets in line to sing the praises of Mario Moraes to Jamie Little.

Lap 44
Hey, we're past halfway. Dario, Power, Wilson, RHR, Dixon, Kanaan, Briscoe, Marco, Tags, and Danica your top ten. We've finally settled into some green flag racing, which is a kinda nice change.

Lap 45
Side note: Dario changed engines this morning, but there's no penalty from the league? Somebody explain how that works please.

Lap 50
Much of the same as five laps ago. Matos hits the pit lane as the window opens for our next round of stops.

Lap 52
Briscoe, Tagliani, and Viso in; everything looking good with those stops. Watching Power and Wilson chase Dario and waiting for them to peel off the track.

Lap 54
Top three coming up on lapped traffic as Dario and Power have slowed a bit to allow Wilson to catch up as they try to save fuel. Dario dives off to pit.

Lap 56
Power and Wilson both pit. They were really caught in traffic on the last lap, so Dario might be in the hot seat here. Wilson beats Power off pit lane and they both beat Dario! Wilson in the lead!

Lap 57
Bertrand Baguette in the tires. Still a local yellow at this point. Radio says Scheckter had a part in the incident. No replays on TV yet as we're in the middle of pit stops.

Lap 58
Marco and Rahal battle each other hard for position, Rahal takes him in turn 3, then uses the wall as a pick to make Marco get in line.

Lap 60
Power and Dario get caught in traffic (looked like Moraes), and Wilson runs off with the lead.

Lap 61
Trouble! Briscoe around in circles with no front wing! A local yellow and some brave corner worker work later, Briscoe is out of the way. Replay shows Rahal looking to outbrake, but the two cars stayed in line and Rahal put Briscoe around.

Lap 63
Briscoe in and out with a fresh schnozz. At least a lap down now, though...tough break for him.

Lap 65
We are...YELLOW! Matos' and Viso's cars have become attached to each other. Paul Tracy also around behind that. Replay shows Danica was passing Marco, then Marco sort of held up Matos and Viso and no one had anywhere to go; Matos and Viso lose out. Tracy's spin was from locking his brakes trying to pass Simona de Silvestro. Tracy back up and running.

Lap 71
Hey guess fuel saving today, folks! Everyone's good to race.

Lap 72
We are...GREEN! Wilson loose on acceleration of the last turn and Power...TAKES THE LEAD! Hunter-Reay is divebombing the planet and puts Dixon into the outside wall in turn 3. OH! Justin Wilson end-around as well. Chaos in Toronto!

Lap 74
Dixon's day is clearly through, as his left front is pointed entirely the wrong way. We are...YELLOW: Scheckter and Tags in the turn one tires. Scheckter a bit optimistic trying to pass, Tags cuts him off and that is that.

Lap 75
Okay...let's all breathe for a moment. Your current top o' the order: Power, Dario, RHR, Kanaan, Rahal (WOOHOO!), Danica (way to stay out of trouble somehow), Andretti, de Silvestro (!!!), Meira (how'd he get back up there?), Wheldon.

Lap 77
We are...GREEN! Dario and RHR realy taking the fight to Power at the head of the field. Now Kanaan trying his luck with this battle.

Lap 78
A hellish gaggle of cars behind the lapped car of Ryan Briscoe (don't say that too often) Lots of brake-locking and wing-to-gearbox contact and WOOOOAHs from the viewing audience.

Lap 80
Wilson gets 8th from de Silvestro in the middle of that insane battle. All of those cars bunch up into turn 3, then somehow don't hit each's kinda fun to watch.

Lap 82
Oh by the way, Will Power is just over a second up on Dario. RHR and Kanaan follow them. Things have settled a bit further back as the fast cars get in front of the slowpokes.

Lap 84
Wilson has gotten by Marco. NOT SEEN HERE, says ABC.

Lap 85
White flag for Will Power. This is a sniper situation for the guys behind him...nobodys catching Will.

Checkered Flag!
Power takes advantage of everyone else's mistakes and takes the win! Dario, RHR, Kanaan, Rahal, Danica, Wilson, Marco, de Silvestro, and Wheldon round out your top ten. This one was quite the crashfest at the beginning and near the end, but the last ten laps went off without a hitch. Lots of fun racing here and there.

Thanks to Marty Reid for letting us know that this is the 52nd anniversary of Richard Petty's first win (drink some bleach, Marty).

Will Power kisses his car that brought him to victory and receives the plaudits of his team members. Will, always thinking ahead, loves extending the points lead. We find out that Briscoe said Power has to do a rap if he rap here, but maybe we'll see one later.

Justin Wilson says he went a bit too hard into turn 8 and had to hit the brakes, which caused his spin. Says the D&R guys deserve better than what he gave them.

Hunter-Reay says his car a junk, which makes his third place even more interesting. No comments on his hip check on Scott Dixon...DeBruhl probably should've pushed him a bit on that.

Scott Goodyear says the series is getting competitive now...even though Will Power is wrecking the points battle. His point is fair, though; lots of teams were represented towards the sharp end of the field all day.

Anyway, my predictions worked out decently enough. Will Power, of course, can make any gambler look like a genius. Rafa Matos was doing decently until he was caught up in a traffic jam and made contact with Viso. Paul Tracy might've had a better shot if his fuel hose had worked better on his first pit stop.

The show hits the Edmonton City Centre Airport next week for what should be another runaway show by Will sure was last time around. Until then, cheers!