TORONTO - If it was up to Dario Franchitti the start of the Honda Indy Toronto on Sunday afternoon would be an orderly affair, with the drivers respecting one another’s space and holding on to their 300 km/h IZOD IndyCar machines as they negotiate Turn 1.
But the two-time winner of the Honda Indy knows that won’t be the case and that mayhem will surely ensue when the green flag signals the first of 85 laps around the 11-turn Exhibition Place temporary street course.
It has been that way ever since someone decided it would be a good idea to race motorized vehicles on a prescribed track.
It just became more dangerous and more hazardous since the brain trust of the IZOD IndyCar series ruled that the cars would line up side-by-side on all starts and re-starts, never mind that always waiting about 400 metres down the road was a corner where only one car can get through at a time.
Franchitti agrees that the fans love it, watching as 26 drivers dive into that corner all believing they will be the one who will make it through unscathed.
“We have seen some pretty big accidents, big in the number of cars that are involved,” Franchitti said of the double file starts so far this season.
But he said Exhibition Place is going to make those earlier crashes look like child’s play if drivers don’t behave.
“Toronto is going to be difficult,” Franchitti said Thursday as he looked out over Turn 1 from the old Automotive Building. “It is really narrow going into Turns 1 and 2. The way we sit in the cars if you have somebody right in front of you, you just can’t see what is going on ahead of that car.”
That is where the danger lies. He said that unless the driver is hyper quick to react to something happening in front, it can result in disaster.
But, he said, it can all be avoided if drivers just use common sense and employ some patience.
“So ultimately it is in our hands as drivers, both on the start and on the re-starts,” Franchitti said. “My advice to all the other drivers is ‘let’s not be too crazy out there’.
“But you can tell drivers a hundred times to do that and it seems it doesn’t make a difference.”
The native of Bathgate, Scotland, said if, by some minor miracle everybody makes it through the Turn 1 and Turn 2 funnel, they have Turn 3, after one of the longest, fastest back straightaways in all of IndyCar, to negotiate.
“I can tell you Turn 3 is going to be equally as interesting as Turn 1 and 2,” Franchitti said.
Make no mistake, Franchitti loves the layout of the Honda Indy Toronto course. But what he loves about it — that it challenges the driver — is also what makes it so treacherous.
“I was out (Wednesday) night walking the track and there are some corners that have five or six different surfaces,” he said of the new and old asphalt and the new and not so new concrete patches that make up the 2.824 km circuit.
Franchitti, however, said it is just such conditions that makes winning in Toronto so satisfying.
“Getting over those bumps and getting over those different surfaces is all part of the challenge of racing here,” he said.
“That is what makes Toronto. That is what Toronto is all about.”
Franchitti also knows that part of being so successful in Toronto means that he is the driver everyone wants to beat.
Add to that fact that Franchitti and the No. 10 Target Ganassi team sits atop the IZOD IndyCar championship after a — by their standards — slow start to the season and it’s easy to see the pressure he is under to make it three wins here.
“When you drive for a team like Target you are expected to do well week after week,” he said. “There is that kind of pressure. But there is also the pressure that comes from within the team.
“Nobody wants to fail. There is massive pressure, for example, on the pit crew. A bad pit stop at a place like Toronto can be the difference between winning and finishing 20th.”
Just looking at Franchitti’s stats for Toronto — three top-5s and three top-10s and 238 laps led to go with his two wins in those eight starts — suggest a 20th place finish is highly improbable.