James Hinchcliffe has watched the Toronto Indy's main event from the grandstands since he was a kid, dreaming of one day driving in the circuit's Sunday finale.
This weekend the rookie from Oakville, Ont., will finally see the deciding race from a different location - behind the wheel, as he makes his homecoming as a driver in IndyCar's top tier.
Hinchcliffe has raced on Toronto's street circuit before in various junior formulas, including the last two years in the Firestone Indy Lights championship, his best finish in Toronto being third in 2009.
Hinchcliffe says the opportunity to start in the big race - the Honda Indy - is a long time coming.
"I've been coming to this race since I was 18 months old," he said on a conference call Tuesday. "I've had the opportunity to drive here in a few of the different formulas over the years and have all been incredible experiences in their own right.
"But at the end of the day I was always sitting with everyone else on Sunday afternoon when the main show started. It's going to be pretty special."
Hinchcliffe picked up victories last year in Long Beach, Edmonton and Chicagoland and finished second overall in the Indy Lights championship for Team Moore Racing.
He'll drive the No. 06 Sprott/Newman Haas Racing car this weekend, and is currently second in the rookie-of-the-year point standings behind J.R. Hildebrand.
So far the transition to top-level racing has been mostly smooth. His best finish this season was fourth at the Toyota Grand Prix in Long Beach, Calif., and he also raced to a respectable ninth in Sao Paulo.
In May he made his first start at the famed Indianapolis 500, but hit the barrier while exiting the fourth turn. Good or bad, the rookie is soaking in all the new experiences.
"It's a very competitive series and you really appreciate that you are driving against the best guys in North America," Hinchcliffe said. "I've thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I've worked very hard to get to this point. And I'm learning as much as I possibly can every opportunity I get."
His recent strong performance in southern California could give Hinchcliffe an edge this weekend at Toronto's Exhibition Place. The two courses are considered very similar in design and Hinchcliffe admits street racing, as opposed to oval, is where he thrives.
"I think there's some similarities," he said. "In fact, if you had to pick a circuit that was closest to Toronto, it probably would be Long Beach.
"And that's a confidence booster heading into this weekend. I just seem to like street circuits. I have since I first started racing them back in 2004. Although Toronto hasn't been my strongest track historically, it's the same type of circuit and if everything goes my way [this weekend] I think we can have a strong finish."
A strong finish in front of family in friends would obviously be an ideal outcome for Hinchcliffe, but he's not letting the pressure get to him.
Despite an increased workload since moving to the top class, the personable 24-year-old always finds time to unwind away from the track.
If he's not making absurd and comedic home videos as "the Mayor" of his busy website Hinchtown.com, Hinchcliffe can be found strumming a guitar to relax.
"I'm not abandoning my IndyCar career for music just yet. One Canadian tried and it didn't work too well for him," he said with a laugh, referring to former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve, who released an album called Private Paradis in 2007.
"I own a guitar and know how to hold it, but I don't think [Eric]Clapton has got anything to worry about."Report Typo/Error