Note: This week’s roundtable doesn’t feature writers from INDYCAR.com. Instead, as a change of pace, it will feature past and present Canadian drivers and team officials from the INDYCAR SERIES as the series makes its annual trek to Canada's largest city for the Honda Indy Toronto on July 16.
Today’s question: What was your favorite INDYCAR SERIES race in Toronto?
Devlin DeFrancesco (Driver, Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport): The first INDYCAR race I went to was in 2012, and I was 12 years old. Tony Kanaan was driving for KV (Racing Technology). I had known Tony since I was 9 or 10 years old as he came to a karting race in Homestead (Florida) back in 2009, from memory. He was coaching (another driver), but I guess he watched me, and I was quite quick that day. He started speaking with my dad, and that started things between us. So, I went to that Toronto race and saw him race (he finished fourth). Being only 12 years old, I wasn’t old enough to get special access or get down there (to the cars), but I remember how cool it was going to my first INDYCAR race, especially seeing (the sport) in person for the first time. That seems like a long time ago, and I guess it was. Twelve years ago.
Scott Goodyear (Two-time Indianapolis 500 runner-up): I was not even living in Canada when they had the first Toronto race in ’86. I was in Houston, Texas, driving for Tom Mitchell Racing in Formula Atlantic and trying to sell, sell, sell (sponsorship) as a young racing driver (he was 26). Here in Canada, it seemed no one knew there were other (INDYCAR) races beyond the Indy 500, so it was always really difficult to pitch companies. So, I was really happy the event started because it definitely made convincing potential sponsors easier as the race became the sports event of the year in the city. You could see (INDYCAR) becoming more mainstream, which made it easier on all of the young drivers looking for (financial help). And it worked. I remember I was sponsored for quite a few years by Mister Transmission, and they put my mug on tons of buses and trains, and that really raised my profile. In those days, (driver) suits would be plastered with personal sponsorships – clothing and watch companies and the like, tools to sell yourself. After that first Toronto race, you could pick up the telephone, and people would say they knew all about (INDYCAR and the Toronto event), especially because of Molson’s involvement. The event helped grow the sport in this country, no doubt, so for me it’s not (the actual racing) that’s memorable, it’s how the event helped so many of us young drivers trying to make it.
Gavin Ward (Racing Director, Arrow McLaren): I'm biased because I grew up in Toronto. A lot of Canadians will tell you they're from Toronto, but then you dig a little deeper and they're not actually from metropolitan Toronto. But I did grow up in "The Beach" inside of Toronto and used to ride my bike down to the racetrack here. So, I'm a little biased to the Toronto layout, back in the day. Obviously, the layout's changed a touch, pit lane has moved, those sorts of things. I used to sit on the inside of the exit at Turn 8. That was where you used to be able to go general admission and throw down a lawn chair there and get a pretty decent view. One year there was a family grandstand outside Turn 5, and it was not a bad view, either. So, I sat there and just missed the cut on being in the crowd shot for “Driven,” believe it or not. Some of my friends there with me were just in view, and I wasn't. But I grew up with my grandparents owning farm property right outside what's now Canadian Tire Motorsport Park or Mosport, as I grew up with it. I never got see an INDYCAR SERIES race there but think it's pretty. I had started volunteering with a Canadian Formula 4 team. That must have been like 2001 or so, where I started working with Steve Pickering and "Smoking" Steve Pickering Motorsport, and we did like Canadian National Series and Ontario Regional Races. I just started and then my second race was at the Molson Indy as a support series, but I think it was actually the year after that was Paul Tracy winning the Champ Car race in 2003. I was there that year. That was pretty fun. Still, getting the home win. Let's probably put that one up there. Although I didn't get to see all of it because we were prepping for our race.
Robert Wickens (Driver Coach, Arrow McLaren): I guess it would be a two-parter for me. Selfishly, was finishing on the podium there (in Toronto) in 2018. You know, home race, we really didn't have a great weekend up until that point, and then it all kind of came together in the race. We qualified 10th and drove forward to a P3 in that one. That was great. So many friends and family came out to that one, and it's always been a bucket list thing of mine to be on the podium – or ideally win – your home race. If I think back, I started going to the Toronto Indy from probably 1997 was the first year I went. I'd already started karting then. I started karting in 1997. But we went to ‘Fan Friday,' which I still think is one of the coolest things that we do in INDYCAR. You know, free admission, just kind of go check out the scenes and then get in on Friday and get a good look at it. I got to meet loads of drivers. I got to meet Greg Moore, who then became my hero, my idol at the time. Unfortunately, he passed away just a couple years later. There's a lot of really good memories, but those are the two that always come to mind for me from INDYCAR and Canada.