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Toronto Diary:
Day One
An Atypical Friday

Toronto, Ontario, Canada, July 6, 2007 Friday wasn't quite like it usually is at Toronto, but there was still enough action on the track to entertain those who did show up.

Still A Bit Off. It did not seem like a typical Friday at the Grand Prix of Toronto, now known as the Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto, after years and years of Molson sponsorship. At least a beer company is back as the first word in the event name after a year of no title sponsor. It almost seemed sacrilegious to not have a beer associated with a Canadian sporting event.

From a personal standpoint, the day, or rather the evening before, started out like a typical Toronto weekend. Angelo and I left after work for our first stop at a friend's house in St. Catharines, Ontario. After a brew, some wonderful grilled burgers, and great racing conversation, we hit the sack early knowing an early start awaited us the next morning.

Taking off early for Toronto to miss as much rush hour traffic as possible was relatively successful. Driving in Canada during rush hour is always interesting -- you are either driving 80 mph or five. Nothing in between. We arrived at our next destination, another friend's house in the city of Toronto. A bit too early, as they were in the shower.

Then the day took an atypical turn. We needed to take the Dundas Street 505 streetcar line to the Delta Chelsea Hotel to register for our credentials. However, the Dundas route is shutdown for repairs. So, it was the College Street 506 line that finally got us to our destination. The day continued to be atypical as we did not completely acquire the proper access our credentials were to provide. Hopefully, that will be cleared up by tomorrow.

While Cleveland continues to grow and grow after a downturn, it almost appears Toronto is heading in the opposite direction. I mentioned, as well as others, the disappointment with last year's event, both in terms of attendance and merchandise booths. Though, some of that has improved -- Thunder Alley is much better, somewhat thanks to the new soccer stadium being completed thus the construction was no longer an obstacle -- once again, it appears there is a downward trend in display booths. The tuner car show in the convention center is no longer there. The number of booths in the convention center also appear to be less, and very few of them sell racing merchandise of the souvenir variety -- most are there to market big ticket items.

However, the number of sporting events in Thunder Alley has improved. Back are the motorcycle stunt acts and the go karts. New is Thai boxing and tag team wrestling. And of course, there is the Miss Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto whose finals will be Saturday evening.

The crowd, however, I found to be quite disappointing. For a Friday at Toronto, I have seen much larger crowds. The grandstands were not as filled as in the past, and the general admission areas were barely one deep even in the prime viewing locations.

I don't know what the reason is. Despite the threat of a possible passing thunderstorm, the weather was fantastic with no rain and mostly sunny skies and not too hot. I wonder, with the FIFA Under 20 World Cup in town, whether the local sports fans are spending their entertainment budget on soccer this year instead of racing. We'll have to see what happens over the next two days.

One thing that was definitely not atypical was the result of provisional qualifying. Sebastien Bourdais claimed the point for Friday qualifying and a guaranteed front row spot. Interestingly, when he came in, he stood on top of the car raising his arms as if he won a race, never mind the pole position. Yet, he only took provisional pole. One has to wonder if it was a little mind game he was playing with the rest of the field after the controversy from Mont Tremblant.

Diligent Work. Most Atlantic teams have only a few full time engineers/mechanics on their payroll. They rely heavily on weekend help, sometimes paid, sometimes volunteer. However, that doesn't diminish their commitment or professionalism.

It was very interesting observing the Conquest Racing crew for Matt Lee's car during the first practice session. They approached their job with the thoroughness you would find at any level of racing.

When Lee came in the first time, the team set about acquiring the feedback necessary to make changes. They plugged into the data port on the side of the cockpit and downloaded the information. At the same time, a Cosworth engineer plugged into another data port, and took his readings while at the same time, a Cooper Tires engineer took the pyrometer readings for the tires. And, I'm sure simultaneously, they were receiving feedback from the driver over the radio.

The tire engineer provided his numbers to the Conquest engineer, who fed them into his laptop which had already received the information from the car's download. After a short while, the chief engineer wrote some information down from the computer, and showed them to the mechanics. They then set about taking the shock cover off and made some adjustments to the front shocks and springs. When all was done, they sent Lee back out.

Everyone on the crew had a particular job to do, working together as a coherent team. Eric Bachelart eventually made his way over after taking care of his Champ Car team duties from their session previous to the Atlantic practice.

Unfortunately, Lee crashed the car shortly after going back out. He took the front wing off, and crushed the nosecone from the top. No problem for the crew. Lee made it back to the pits, and the crew, without panic, replaced the front nose and wing and checked the suspension.

While the car was being held by the officials for a time penalty incurred for causing the red flag, the chief engineer stood in front of the car a few yards away and eyeballed each side of the car as his way to verify the alignment. He found it to be satisfactory enough to feel comfortable sending him back out.

Matt Lee did struggle during that practice session, winding up below the midway point in the timing chart. For qualifying, he struggled even further, posting a time only good for 20th out of 22 entries. However, with a crew as professional as Conquest Racing, the performance should turn around for this team.

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Copyright © 2007 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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