It's once again Honda Indy TORONTO time, and you'll notice I'm emphasizing the “TORONTO”. For a while last year we aren't sure if this year's race was going to be the Honda Indy TORONTO or the Honda Indy Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this year, due to the Pan Am Games.
A lot of people wanted to see the race move to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park when the race's traditional date was not possibly because of the Games. I love Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and would love to see Indy Cars race there, actually I love watching anything race there, but I was not among those who wanted to see the race move out of the CNE.
How serious any of that talk was really depends on who you speak to. Some are convinced it was never going to happen at all, some are convinced it was a realistic possibility. Some say the negotiations were simply to put pressure on Indy Car and the City of Toronto to make sure an agreeable date was found, some think that a deal may have been closer to reality than was reported.
Could the tickets at CTMP have been cheaper? Maybe
Could the crowd have been just as big, or possibly bigger? Maybe?
Could the promoters have made more money? Maybe
The problem is, if all of the above were to come true, then the promoters would have a decision to make, move back downtown to the CNE for 2015, or remain at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The latter decision would have been, maybe not disastrous, but definitely a huge blow to Canadian racing.
For the promoters, this race is a business, it's there to make money now, and to continue in the long term as a viable business model. It's not their job to promote Canadian racing, or do what's best for Canadian racing to the detriment of their own product. If a successful race at CTMP would have led them to believe they were better off an hour or so outside of Toronto, then that's where the race would have stayed.
To me, it's a similar situation to the CFL, where it has long been considered (rightly or wrongly)that losing the Toronto Argonauts would mean, eventually, the death of the league. Not because the Argo's are the biggest draw in the league, they aren't, and certainly not because they are the strongest team financially or in the ownership department, they haven't been that for a very long time.
The Argo's are important to the league for the same reason the Honda Indy being in Toronto is important to Canadian racing. It's in Toronto, and Toronto is the corporate hub of this country, and if you want Corporate Canada to be aware of you and your product, then you need to be near by, not an hour or more away.
Loose the Indy from downtown Toronto, and Corporate Canada loses any contact, as short as it may be, with motorsports in Canada. Out of sight, out of mind.
There was a time, granted a quite a while ago, that teams racing in the old Player's GM series could get an entire season's sponsorship budget based on the Indy alone. Sponsor's didn't care where else they raced, not even interested, just make sure the show at the Indy is on, and here's your cheque.
Wandering through the race grounds last year, I recall looking around, in one place, and seeing no less than 3 different television stations doing reports about the race. Why are they there? Because it is a big event for Toronto and it is convenient. Most of all, I believe, because it is convenient.
Compare that to the amount of media we find at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park at their biggest events of the year, the Tudor Sports Car weekend in July and the NASCAR Truck Series race in August. Outside of the usual cast of motorsport media, there is no one from any of the Toronto TV stations there. None of the breakfast television shows are there interviewing fans or drivers. Just the usual motorsport crowd.
Every year, the Wednesday before the Sports Car race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (whether it's ALMS or Tudor), the track puts on a promotional day at Yonge-Dundas Square in downtown Toronto.
With everything going on, and all the cars the track puts on display, it inevitably attracts a lot of attention from the passers-by. There are usually big crowds over the lunch hour, but the media interest is low. In fact last year, after Dean McNulty from the Toronto Sun did an interview with GTS championship contender & factory Viper driver Kuno Wittmer, it was just me, CJ and RaceCanada friend and photographer Meesh Beer, chatting with Kuno & Ashley McAlmont for close to an hour. No one else was there. Out of site, out of mind. That's why Toronto is important.
There may be shortcomings to watching a race at a street circuit like Toronto, and the event may not be what it was in the past, but it's important that it stays downtown. As brief as it is every year, it's crucial for motorsports in Canada that the Indy stays in Toronto, and that there are always a couple of Canadian racing series among the support races.
So, enjoy this year's Honda Indy TORONTO, and let's hope there's many more year's to come downtown.