Next weekend, July 6, 7 and 8, the streets around the Canadian National Exhibition will once again resonate to the sound of Indy cars as the the IZOD IndyCar series returns to Toronto for the 26th time.
The inaugural Toronto race was held in 1986 and it has been a summertime staple ever since (with the exception of2009 when there was no race). Continuation of the Honda Indy Toronto was recently confirmed through 2014.
This year the sound of the cars will be different from those of the past three years. Instead of the normally-aspirated 3.0-litre Honda V-8s that have powered the fields over that period, the new-generation Indy cars are driven by turbocharged 2.2-litre V-6 engines with direct fuel injection – following a path currently in vogue for production-car engines.
As a result of the turbos, which also serve as sound dampers, the cars will make more of a 'whoosh' than a 'blatt' when they go past. Aurally, they're more reminiscent of the turbocharged Champ Cars from the pre-2009 era than those of the past three years.
New cars for 2012
But the cars don't look like either of those predecessors. IndyCar mandated an all-new car, as well as new engines, for the 2012 season.
It's built by Dallara and designated DW-12, the DW in honour of Dan Wheldon, who won the Indy 500 in 2011 and was subsequently killed in a multi-car crash in the season-ending race at Las Vegas. Wheldon was the test driver for development of the new car, which is used by all teams this year.
It's sad irony that the new car, with body-work close in front of and behind the rear wheels, was designed specifically to prevent the kind of wheel-climbing incident that initiated the pileup resulting in Wheldon's fatal crash.
While teams are all required to use the same cars, for the first time in ten years there will be engine competition in the Toronto race.
Honda was the sole engine supplier for the past three years, but Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus all answered the call to provide engines for the new 2012 car.
The Chevy and Lotus engines employ twin turbochargers, while the Honda uses a single turbo. In theory, In theory, two small turbos can provide quicker response accelerating off slower corners, while a bigger single turbo might be slower to accelerate but produce more top-end power.
To date. Chevy power has dominated on the road courses, winning the first four races, but, after making a previously-approved change to its turbo housing prior to the Indy 500, Honda-powered cars have been been highly competitive, winning the 500 and a couple more races and consistently being among the front runners.
Lotus has struggled from the beginning and is down to powering just one car in Toronto, although just-approved changes that will debut there promise to make it more competitive.
Power output for all engines is estimated to be in the 550-700 horsepower range, depending on the amount of turbo boost, which can be varied for different tracks by calibration of their electronic control units (ECUs) – supplied and controlled by IndyCar.
An added bonus for Toronto fans will be the return of a 'push-to-pass' feature for the first time since the pre-2009 Champ-Car days. It permits a few seconds of increased turbo boost and higher rpm to enable passing.
The number of push-to-pass uses for each driver is limited, so strategy in their use adds a further element of excitement to the competition.
For many fans in Toronto, it will be the drivers, not the cars, that are the focus of their attention – particularly the two Canadian drivers who are running the full IndyCar season.
James Hinchcliffe, who hails from Oakville, Ontario, took over the high-profile GoDaddy ride with Andretti Autosport this year, when Danica patrick defected to NASCAR. He's been a consistent front-runner with consistent finishes and was in line to take over the championship points lead in the late stages of last weekend's race in Iowa, when he crashed out.
Alex Tagliani is driving for the Barracuda-sponsored Brian Herta Autosport team, which won the 2011 Indy 500, with Dan Wheldon driving. The Herta team the season with Lotus power, which mired Tagliani among the tail-enders, but they switched to Honda engines prior to the Indy 500 and have put in some impressive performances since then.
He qualified on the pole for the ultra-fast Texas race and third on the streets of Belle isle, in Detroit, which is a similar course to Toronto. Tagliani has been consistently fast in most of the recent races although he seems to have been plagued by bad luck that has prevented high-placing finishes.
Look for both Canadian drivers to be among the front-runner in Toronto.
And don't forget, admission is free for practice and first-day qualifying on Friday, July 6. Further information on tickets and the weekend schedule is available at www.hondaindytoronto.com.