It was Sunday morning and I needed to get to mass, but as I was covering the Indy races all weekend, it looked like there wouldn't be time. Luckily, I'd noticed signs all over the media centre advertising morning chapel and a Catholic service courtesy the Indycar Ministry, to be held in the drivers' centre in the BMO Field building on the other end of the track.
A couple of days previous I was in the area, just by turn 5, so I decided to check out the building. I was stopped by a security guard and told that my media pass wouldn't get me in. I told her about the signs, and wondered why they'd advertise mass to the media if we couldn't attend. Back at the media centre, I told the head of the press room about it, and he insisted that I was OK to get into mass - why else would the signs be up here? He said he'd talk to someone about it.
So of course on Sunday morning I arrived at the security desk at the driver's centre to be told by the same security guard that she hadn't heard a thing, and that I couldn't go to mass with a media pass. I insisted that this had all been straightened out, and that all she needed to do was talk to her bosses. Radios were picked up and phones dialed and a few minutes later I was told that, yes, I was clear to go in and attend mass, which turned out to be celebrated by an Oratorian up from Indiana.
I suppose I could have been angry about the levels of dysfunctional bureaucracy clearly at work (or not at work) here, but what struck me was how unique my queries about getting to mass seemed to be, which leads me to believe that I might have been the first member of the godless media to ask about going to Indy mass in a long time. Take from that what you will.
During mass, the priest asked us to pray for Ryan Briscoe, whose injury the day before had taken him out of today's race. Back at the press centre I learned that Carlos Munoz, a promising young driver currently leading the points in Indy Lights, had been asked by Panther Racing to take Briscoe's place in their National Guard car. There was a press conference with Munoz just after lunch, where he revealed that he'd gotten the call at 7pm the night before, and that his flight out of Toronto had been booked for 6am the next day.
"I didn't sleep much," Munoz told us. "I went at 8 o'clock to try the seat. I'm using Ryan's seat so I'm not a hundred per cent comfortable but anyway it's just for the race. It's a great opportunity."
It was the race equivalent of the star breaking their leg tripping over a set backstage and the understudy being given their big break. Only in this case it wasn't an understudy, but someone doing an off-Broadway show down the street, pulled aside in the wings and told to head right to a wardrobe fitting as soon as they were done.
"Panther Racing isn't expecting too much from me," Munoz said. "My goal is not to make any mistakes. Yesterday there was a lot of crashes - I saw the race, so I have to keep out of trouble and get quicker and quicker with each lap and not to make any mistakes on the pit stops and to finish the race."
I finally managed to watch the Stadium Super Truck race from a spot on the pit island, where I got a good view of just how NASCAR driver Robby Gordon is going to get rich. It was just a demonstration race - these things are supposed to be run inside on dirt, so even with the huge tires and massive suspension travel on these race trucks, drivers and their rides were getting pretty banged up.
The crowd loved it, however, especially as they watched the trucks corner on three and even two wheels, and then get massive air as they traveled over the ramps bracketing the beginning of start/finish straight. It was Monster Truck for people who've read a book, and while I enjoyed it immensely, I'm sure I lost fifteen IQ points by the time it was done.
"Indycar racing isn't Formula 1," Graham Rahal told me the day before. "It isn't about the standing starts, and I'm not sure that we need 'em. Tradition in this sport goes back a hundred years and it's never been that way once for a reason." Nevertheless, Indycar officials decided that they'd give standing starts another shot on Sunday and, unbelievably, it went off without a hitch.
Frankly I liked the standing starts. While F1 seems to spelunk its way up its own posterior with tire issues and pit stop strategies and corporate shenanigans of the Bernie variety, Indycar soldiers on, beset by naysayers (most of whom are still mourning ChampCar and CART) but still the only place you can see open wheel race cars drive on street tracks, road courses and ovals, and even run the most iconic motor race in the world once a year. Throw in standing starts and you have probably the most flexible racing series in the world. Decide between rolling and standing with a coin toss on pit lane and the showmanship is amplified.
Sunday was brutally hot, but the racing seemed to be sharper even as the track rubbered in and bits of shredded tire littered the edge of the racing line. My feet were blistered from the previous two days, so I stuck to the inside of the track, scurrying for shade whenever I felt lightheaded from the sun and finishing off litres of water. I can't imagine what it must have been like in the cars, though.
I know I said it before, but the movie had better be fucking awesome.
The weekend got worse for Graham Rahal's team when James Jakes went into the wall at turn five with twenty laps to go - the same wall he hit during qualifying. Then Ed Carpenter lost control and hit the same barriers by turn five; I was a few yards away (with my back turned, of course) when it happened, and caught him getting out of his car, unhurt.
Scott Dixon had a much better day, winning both Toronto races, his third in a row, and getting a $100,000 cheque for being the first driver to take a whole two-race weekend. Castroneves and Bourdais came third and second, no one dropped their trophy, and Dixon's daughters ended up getting most of the attention from the cameras as they wandered Winner's Circle in matching yellow sun dresses, playing with Firestone's Firehawk mascot and making off with Bullseye, the stuffed toy Target mascot.
Two days later, I can still barely walk. For a more concise summary of the weekend, here's my blogTO post.