TORONTO – Paul Tracy’s designation as the only Canadian to win an Indy car race at Exhibition Place is again in peril because James Hinchcliffe is back for another shot at winning the Honda Indy Toronto.
The story is committed to memory in these parts: Hinchcliffe grew up a few miles – kilometers, actually – south along Lake Ontario in Oakville. Hinchclliffe’s fascination for auto racing grew out of attending this race as a youngster and with a personality to match this big, beautiful city, he has become the face of this annual motorsports street party.
Off the track, Hinchcliffe’s energy has no equal in the NTT IndyCar Series. On the track, only few drivers have exceeded his speed on this 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary circuit.
Since recovering from injuries suffered in the 2015 accident at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Hinchcliffe has failed to reach the Firestone Fast Six qualifying round only once and backed those days up with an average race finish of 3.3. With a little luck here and there, he would have finished higher than third, third and fourth in the past three years.
Last year, Hinchcliffe finished one spot behind Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Robert Wickens, a sign that the Indianapolis-based team has been as good here as its local shoes. (Wickens hails from Guelph, another neighboring Ontario town.
This year, Hinchcliffe will be a smart pick to win Sunday’s 85-lap race (3 p.m., NBCSN) not only because of his history here but the strength the No. 5 Arrow Honda in recent races. The combination was poised for a podium finish at Texas Motor Speedway last month before crashing late in the race, and he had a car in the hunt for a top-five finish at Road America (he finished seventh). Hinchcliffe was 11th among 22 drivers in Friday's day-ending practice. Qualifying is Saturday at 2 p.m. ET (also on NBCSN).
Hinchcliffe has qualified in the top 10 in each of the series’ past four events. Wouldn’t it be red-and-white day if his seventh career race win came here Sunday?
“I’m so lucky we get to do this every year,” Hinchcliffe said Thursday as event organizers kicked off the race weekend. “This is my home country, my home city.
“I lived 10 minutes down the road, and I grew up 20 minutes down the road. This is the race that made me fall in love with IndyCar racing as a kid. To come back here now and be the guy putting on the show – being the guy on the other side of the grandstands – is important.
“The city is incredible every year, the event seems to be growing, the TV ratings (for IndyCar), the (people) of the Honda Indy Toronto have done an incredible job, Honda Canada and all the hard work they’ve done -- it’s awesome.
“I’m giddy. I just can’t wait to deliver.”
He just might. And if it happens, Paul Tracy will welcome him to the Canadian club.