There may be a new car and new engines coming to do battle in the weekend's annual Honda Indy, but the racing should have the same old nail-biting action and unpredictability.
The most obvious difference the fans will see this year is the DW12 chassis with its larger sidepods and wrap around guards behind the rear wheels. The design was adopted to help lessen the dangers of cars being launched into the air after wheel-to-wheel contact.
"Visually, the cars are tremendously different but if you have been watching races on TV, you're probably at least a little used to the look of the car," said Oakville, Ont.'s, James Hinchcliffe, who drives for Andretti Autosport.
"The engine definitely has a different sound from last year so you will notice that and you can hear the turbo whines. At the end of the day it's going to be another IndyCar race in Toronto and more of the same awesomeness we have come to expect."
The series switched from normally-aspirated engines to a V-6 turbo this year, which may remind some of the old Cosworth V-8 turbo in the Champ Cars that ran at Exhibition Place prior to 2008.
No matter what they are driving and how they sound, Hinchcliffe wants to keep his string of top finishes going at home in his first year with his new team. Hinchcliffe arrives in Toronto fifth in the points standings and has been a top contender all season, taking two podiums and seven top-6 finishes in the first nine races of 2012.
"My goal is to win the race and the path that I take to get there pretty much doesn't matter," he said, laughing.
"I think that being flexible is going to be the key here: being nimble with strategy and being able to adapt to how things unfold. Toronto is one of those races where anything can happen and usually does to steal the line from [former Formula One play-by-play man] Murray Walker, so the team that can stay on top of the changing scenarios the best will have a good shot at winning."
Last year, Ganassi driver Dario Franchitti took his third win in the 85-lap race. Only Michael Andretti has more wins, taking the chequered flag record seven times at Exhibition Place. Sunday's race (1 p.m. on TSN2 and ABC) will be the 27th Toronto Indy.
Hinchcliffe is one of two Canadians on the grid, along with Lachenaie, Que.'s, Alex Tagliani, who drives for Bryan Herta Autosport. Tagliani's season started slowly after the team's Lotus engines turned out to be less than competitive. The best he could manage in the first three races of 2012 with Lotus power was a 15th. But the outfit switched to Honda motors before May's Indianapolis 500 and Tagliani has put up three top-10s in his last four races.
As always in Toronto, drivers looking to win on the 11-turn, 2.84-kilometre street circuit at Exhibition Place will need to find a way to stave off rivals trying pass going into the slow 90-degree Turn 3 after the long Lakeshore Boulevard straight.
With the new Dallara car also punching a larger hole in the air and the newly announced push-to-pass button offering drivers extra horsepower down the straight, IndyCar seems to have spiced up an existing recipe that always brought thrills and the odd spill.
"Toronto always provides a great race, no matter what car we show up with there, it's always fun for us drivers and the fans," said Panther DRR driver Oriol Servia.
"Somehow the race is always amazing. This year, I am sure certainly won't be any different; actually, it will be better. Toronto is going to be very exciting – we all love that track and the city. It's going to be an awesome race."
In addition, the new pavement laid down on the Lakeshore straight will give the drivers more options as they try to overtake going into Turn 3, as will the carbon fibre brakes that stop the new car much faster than the steel ones on the previous car.
Like has happened in Formula One this season, another big factor in IndyCar so far in 2012 has been the Firestone tires. The rubber supplier has brought tires to races that are extremely grippy when they are new, something that creates a bigger difference between the performance of the rubber from the beginning to the end of a stint. So, depending on pitstop strategies, the range of tire grip may allow much more overtaking than usual.
One thing that remains the same as the past two seasons is today's Free Friday promotion sponsored by the Ontario Honda Dealers Association. The two previous Free Friday events have raised more than $200,000 from fans and Honda dealers for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
On the other hand, the guy who was behind the wheel of the Make-A-Wish Foundation car for the past three Honda Indy races, Paul Tracy, will not be on the grid this year. The 2003 Champ Car Champion does not have a ride in IndyCar for 2012.
With the "Thrill from West Hill" not making the trip, Hinchcliffe hopes some of the Canadian fans will shift their support.
"Certainly, there are still a tremendous amount of Tracy fans out there and there will be a lot of still people showing up wearing [Tracy's] Player's No. 3 hats and shirts and that's awesome," Hinchcliffe said.
"I think it's going to bring a little more attention to Alex [Tagliani] and me, but I guess being from the Greater Toronto area, maybe a little more on me, but that's all part of it. We are just happy to have the Canadian fans come out and support the Canadian drivers as strongly as they do."
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