Tomas Tales: Indy double-bills get mixed reviews

The Prince's Gates at the Toronto Indy. (CP/Michelle Siu)
July 18, 2013, 12:44 PM

The biggest, and what may turn out to be the most important experiment in Toronto’s IndyCar event is complete, as the work crews drip and die in this incredible heat to take the zoom circus down and store it away until next summer.

The experiment was the double-header weekend, two races over three days.

IndyCar didn’t want to lose the Canadian date that used to be Edmonton’s, so they decided to install a double header into the CNE.

Did it work?

It has to be looked at from a couple of angles: the fans and the teams.

The Honda Indy Toronto "two in T.O" twin-bill brought in, what appeared to yours truly, the best crowd since the race went dark in 2008 in that scheduling void when the "split" closed up and the Indy Racing League and ChampCar merged into one series; but the Ex didn’t have an available date to stage the chase-on-the-lake.

Indy CEO Charlie Johnstone is always one of our Raceline/Sportnet 590 The FAN guests, and despite not officially releasing attendance numbers, he was very happy with the number of bodies in the park.

In common speak, the place was jammed.

The TV shots didn’t show as many open spaces in the grandstands.

And sometimes just a good old fashioned eye-ball of the crowd can tell you if the attendance aspect of the double header worked or not.

Did fans buy tickets for one race or both?

It didn’t matter. Sales by all appearances were very brisk and so it’s rather safe to say the promoter no doubt likes the double header experiment.

That brings us to the teams and ultimately the drivers, the performers in the circus.

In interviews with a good number of IndyCar drivers after the series announced double races for Detroit, Toronto and Houston, I couldn’t find one who liked the idea of two races on one weekend, especially on a tight, slippery and bumpy track like Toronto that can physically beat you up.

Every driver and guest we talked to during our five hours of live trackside coverage from the Sportsnet Broadcast Centre on gasoline alley was asked for their opinion on the double work load.

The most diplomatic response came from home-town favourite James Hinchcliffe.

Did he like this double header thing?

He said, "selfishly, no!"

But Hinch quickly added, "But it’s not about me ET! It’s not about me, or Tag, or Dixie, or Helio, or Will or Simona, or Ryan, or Marco, any of the drivers! It’s about what the fans want! If the fans who buy tickets that keep us in business like these double headers and will come out and fill the grandstands, no matter how exhausting and tough they are for us, we will continue to do them!"

Underneath that endorsement of the twin-bill format is the realization that this season, IndyCar compressed the schedule so they don’t disappear while NASCAR races almost every weekend.

But what that meant was 11 straight weeks of racing starting with the big one, the Indianapolis 500, and in that stretch was the double header in Detroit.

Then add two races in Toronto to the to-do list!

I get tuckered out just writing it down.

As Bobby Rahal reminded us during his Raceline/FAN segment, unlike NASCAR teams that have staff who just work on cars at the shop, another to transport and pit the car during races, much smaller IndyCar crews have to do everything and they were spent already at the half-way mark of the schedule.

So make no mistake, these double-header IndyCar weekends are murder on the teams and drivers.

But the fans, at least in Toronto, love them.

So what happens now?

That will be up to the new President of Operations and Competition, Derrick Walker.

He knows about the drain on the teams and drivers and early indications are that he will not have double headers or a compressed list of dates on next year’s schedule.

But he is also well aware that promoters want and need butts on boards along with better television ratings.

Charlie Johnston would no doubt love to see another twin-bill Honda Indy Toronto next year, but is fully prepared to go back to a single race to sell if they have to, since they’ve been doing that from 1986 through 2012.

From a broadcaster’s standpoint, the double-header made it twice as tough to get guests to our location to go live on-air so the fans have something to watch.

I still admit I am not a fan of the double-header Indy.

Last minute schedule changes and hastily called drivers meetings cost us a guest or two, tied directly to the two-race task at hand, but I look at it this way: trying to be as diplomatic as Hinchcliffe, if it means more fans at the event, that’s good for the series, the teams, the sponsors, the fans and broadcasters.

It effects the very survival of the Toronto Indy itself.

Ignoring the scheduling difficulties and the fatigue factor, I have to say that’s a good thing!

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