The good news is that hometown favourite James Hinchcliffe didn’t have to worry about recovering from a 400-mile race before the IndyCar circus hits the streets of Toronto on Friday. The bad news is that he’s got something in reserve because he crashed out of last weekend’s race on the first lap accident and finished dead last in 24th place.
Although the Andretti Autosport driver spun into the wall at Turn 3 just after the green flag flew in Sunday’s Pocono 400 and retired, it could be a blessing in disguise as he prepares for the inaugural doubleheader IndyCar weekend in Toronto.
That’s because drivers know that the physical 11-turn, 2.824-kilometre temporary street circuit at Exhibition Place is tough enough when there’s one event on the weekend. So, two races certainly won’t be easy as they do the double.
“It’s a tremendous challenge for us, certainly. One of the biggest things is hydration. You know, as you said, Toronto in July, it’s probably going to be a hot weekend and going to be draining for sure,” Hinchcliffe said.
“It’s going to come down to being well taken care of on the weekend, hydration, stretching when you need it, and just try to be smart about it.”
Toronto will be the second attempt at the new doubleheader format with full 50-point races happening on Saturday and Sunday. Organizers are calling it “2inTO.”
The first time IndyCar tried out the new two-race weekend was in Detroit early last month where driver fatigue in the second race was thought to be partially responsible for a several incidents and one large pile-up.
After his early exit in Pocono, Hinchcliffe dropped one spot to fifth in the overall standings, with 272 points. But with a maximum of 100 points available in Toronto, a good weekend would go a long way to helping him close the gap to leader Helio Castroneves, of the Penske team, who has 356. Hinchcliffe’s teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay (333) and Marco Andretti (301) are second and third, followed by Pocono race winner Scott Dixon, of the Ganassi Team, at 292.
While he went home empty-handed from Pennsylvania, Hinchcliffe still has a series-high three wins in 11 starts this year.
The other Canadian in the field also had a weekend to forget in Pocono. Alex Tagliani started last after a heavy crash in qualifying sent him to the track medical centre and forced his Barracuda Racing team to rebuild his car in less than 24 hours.
“I’m happy that we’re going back to street courses next weekend,” said Tagliani who finished 17th in Pocono. “We’ll see where we are with the street courses but our pace on ovals has been an issue. Hopefully, we’ll be good in Toronto and go from there.”
Race one of the Honda Indy Toronto takes place late Saturday afternoon with the second race going late Sunday afternoon. Due to the double race weekends, there will also be two qualifying sessions with one on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
And while organizers don’t bank on a win from one of the Canadians in the field to attract fans, Honda Indy president Charlie Johnstone wouldn’t be unhappy if the Canadian flag flew in the winner’s circle.
“Obviously James has won three times already this year and, as the hometown hero, we’d be thrilled for him to put on a show,” Johnstone said.
“And the same goes for Alex – I think any time we have more Canadians to cheer for, the more exciting it is for race fans.”
As has been the case for the past few years, the Ontario Honda Dealers’ charity program will be in place on Friday. Fans can come to the track on Friday for the price of a donation to Make-A-Wish Canada. Honda dealers will match all donations.
Honda Indy organizers began final preparations a week ago as the IndyCars were qualifying on Saturday in Pocono. Lake Shore Boulevard was shut down at midnight Wednesday to make way for the first track action on Thursday morning when there will be two-seater and pace car rides.
Also racing on the weekend are Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000 and the Acura Sport Car Challenge. Off-track, there are six “festivals” running over the three days, surrounding local beer and food, adrenaline sports such as BMX and Robby Gordon’s new Stadium Super Trucks.
“The schedule on track is a little longer than what it has been in the past, but from our perspective, it’s very exciting to have two IndyCar races on the streets of Toronto,” said Johnstone.
“What we are doing this year is really kind of broadening the focus of our marketing to really let people know that it’s more than just what’s happening on the track. We have all these activities and festivals that are happening off the track also so we think this is a great way this year because we have the ‘2inTO’ happening to really get people down to the site for all the activities.”
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Honda Indy Toronto, by the numbers
- 1986: Year the race, then called the Molson Indy, made its debut. Bobby Rahal won the inaugural event.
- 27: Number of years, including 2013, the event has run on the streets of Toronto. The race was not held in 2008.
- 2.824: The official length, in kilometres, of the Toronto street course.
- 85: Laps in the race.
- 11: Number of turns in each lap.
- 7: Number of victories by Michael Andretti, the all-time race win leader.
- 1: Number of Canadians who have won the race. Paul Tracy has done it twice, in 2003 and 1993.
- 9: Race winners have represented nine different countries – Canada, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, England, Scotland, France, Australia and the United States.
- 7: Newman/Haas Racing has the most team wins.
- 12: Lola Cars have been driven to victory a dozen times, the most of any manufacturer.
- 2: Deaths. In 1996, American driver Jeff Krosnoff was killed in a crash with four laps remaining. Volunteer corner marshall Gary Avrin was killed in the same crash.
- $47,500: Cost of a three-day 50-person suite. Taxes and catering not included.
Source: Honda Indy Toronto, Globe files