Series news and notes 2009-07-08

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines 1. Hometown race for Hinchcliffe 2. Open-wheel racing not new to Toronto 3. Public to vote for Firestone "Tire"-rific move of the race 1. Hometown race for Hinchcliffe: For the past...

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. Hometown race for Hinchcliffe
2. Open-wheel racing not new to Toronto
3. Public to vote for Firestone "Tire"-rific move of the race

1. Hometown race for Hinchcliffe: For the past month, James Hinchcliffe has been fielding calls and been solicited via e-mail and Facebook for tickets to the inaugural Honda Indy Toronto.

"'Hey, James, haven't spoken with you in a while but do you have tickets to the Indy this year?'" the gregarious Firestone Indy Lights driver says. "I wish I had a huge chunk I could give to everybody but we're limited and we still want the race to be supported so go and buy the tickets. They're very reasonable and worth every penny because it's a good show."

Partly, that's why the weekend event is so popular - it's a good show as Torontonians shed the layers of clothing and lap up the summer sun along the Lake Ontario circuit. Hinchcliffe, a Toronto native who was born the same year the city hosted the first open-wheel race on the streets (1986), also will have the opportunity to compete on the course. He'll drive the No. 7 Hinchtown/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car in the Grand Prix of Toronto on July 11.

"Torontonians are such big races fans. We loved that event, lived and breathed it since '86 when it started," he said, referring to the CART- and Champ Car-sanctioned race that ended in '07. "It used to be Indy car and now IndyCar is back. We're not picky. It's a unified series; we just love open-wheel racing and love that it's coming back.

"I think everyone in the town was gutted that we didn't make the calendar, but that's understandable. I think everyone is just extra pumped for this year because they've had a year to think about it. I've been to every one since I was 18 months old. My dad's a huge race fan and he used to take us there as a family and then his company used to get a suite so we had VIP treatment a couple of times."

Hinchcliffe said the 11-turn temporary course is mentally challenging and physically demanding.

"Being able to race there again is awesome. The track is quite cool for a street circuit; it has a couple of really quick corners heading onto the front straight in Turns 10 and 11," he said. "Then you have some really good passing opportunities heading down Lakeshore into Turn 3.

"Traditionally, it puts on a really good show. It's a challenging track because there are a lot of surface changes, high speed and low speed. It's a tough one to get your head around, but it's fun for the driver."

He also has high marks for the city (though Hinchcliffe isn't paid by the ministry of tourism) for first time or first-time-in-a-long-time visitors.

"The whole city just comes alive when the race is there," he said. "The Hockey Hall of Fame is a cool thing. You have to go to the CN Tower, go up the glass elevator. Because of the diversity, you want good Greek food you can find it. Japanese, Chinese, Italian, we have it all. It's cool to explore the city. What's cool about it is it's not just the race."

***

2. Open-wheel racing not new to Toronto: An auto racing event on the streets of Toronto was first staged in 1986 as part of the PPG/CART IndyCar World Series. Then known as the Molson Indy Toronto, it marked the first time that open-wheel cars raced in the English-speaking part of Canada since the United States Auto Club sanctioned races on the Mosport road course about an hour north of Toronto in 1977 and '78.

The Toronto course is a combination of public streets and roads that wind their way through the Canadian National Exhibition Centre, a permanent fairgrounds area five minutes from downtown.

From the start, the 1.721-mile circuit was considered an exciting and challenging street course; the sharp, right-hand Turn 1 and the Turn 3 hairpin at the end of the back straight (known most of the year as Lakeshore Drive) provide excellent passing opportunities. The rest of the course is tight and technical, with the exception of the fast left-hander that closes the lap. That corner was modified in 1994 after Bryan Herta crashed and suffered leg injuries during the 1993 race.

The initial Toronto GP was won by Bobby Rahal -- part of the season in which he also won the Indianapolis 500 and the CART championship. However, the name most closely associated with the Toronto event is Michael Andretti, who won in 1989, '91, '92, '94, '95, 2000, and '01.

Other multiple winners include Al Unser Jr. (1988 and '90) and hometown hero Paul Tracy (1993 and 2003).

The winner of the Toronto race went on to win the CART-sanctioned championship six times -- Rahal, Unser (1990), Andretti (1991), Alex Zanardi (1998), Cristiano da Matta (2002) and Sebastien Bourdais (2004).

Driving a Walker Racing Reynard-Honda, Gil de Ferran set the outright track record at 57.143 seconds in 1999 for an average speed of 110.565 mph.

Returning to the streets with the IndyCar Series will be Tracy, who will drive a second entry for KV Racing Technology; 1999 winner Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing; 2005 winner Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing; and Will Power, winner of the last race on the circuit in 2007, who will drive for Penske Racing.

Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, which has won the Toronto race eight times, will enter Graham Rahal and series rookie Robert Doornbos.

With its enthusiastic new promoter in Andretti Green Promotions, proximity to downtown and the enthusiasm that the knowledgeable fans have for open-wheel racing, the revived Honda Grand Prix of Toronto promises to be a highlight of the IndyCar Series schedule for years to come.

***

3. Firestone Indy Lights hits halfway: J.R. Hildebrand hasn't wrapped up the Firestone Firehawk Cup, but if he's a believer in history, the Andretti Green Racing/AFS Racing team may want to clear space in his trophy cabinet.

The driver leading the Firestone Indy Lights championship at the midway point of the season has won the Firestone Firehawk Cup in seven times in eight seasons, dating to the inaugural Firestone Indy Lights season in 2002. Hildebrand, who took the point lead at Indianapolis, currently leads Mario Romancini by 58 points.

Raphael Matos, who drove for Hildebrand's team last season, is the only champion to have won the title after trailing at the midway point.

***

The 2009 IndyCar Series season continues July 12 with the Honda Indy Toronto at the streets of Toronto. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 1 p.m. (EDT) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 211. The radio broadcast also will be carried on www.indycar.com. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the Firestone Indy Lights Grand Prix of Toronto on July 11 at the streets of Toronto. The race will be telecast at 11 p.m. on July 13.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Justin Wilson , Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Bryan Herta , Graham Rahal , Sam Schmidt , Sébastien Bourdais , Robert Doornbos , Chip Ganassi , Will Power , James Hinchcliffe , J.R. Hildebrand , Dale Coyne , Mario Romancini , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , KV Racing Technology , Dale Coyne Racing , Team Penske