James Hinchcliffe, Robbie Wickens and Zachary Claman De Melo are all vying to bring Toronto a Canadian winner

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Peter Bailey

The first time I attended the Honda Indy race in Toronto, my friend Scot Cameron, a former race car driver, told me to stand at the wall of the track at the straightaway and look directly across as a car goes past.

“All you’ll see is a blur,” he said. “You’ll know it went past, but you won’t know what colour it was.”

He was right. I was stunned at how quickly the cars took Lakeshore Boulevard and how they then had to gear down to get around the corner, all the while watching the other cars behind and ahead of them.

That excitement is coming back to Toronto beginning on Friday, leading up to Sunday’s big race. The noise of revving engines will be heard throughout the downtown as spectators flock to the Exhibition Place, along Toronto’s waterfront.

Canadian race fans are excited by the presence of three Canadian drivers competing this year, all of whom got their start in karting.

James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) is, among other things, a certified scuba diver and finished second on season 23 of Dancing with the Stars. The Oakville, Ont., native won the Iowa Speedway race on Sunday. It marks his first win of the season and his second since his Long Beach victory in 2017.

He’s looking for a win in back-to-back events this weekend. He’s come a long way from his near-fatal crash in 2015 that sidelined him for the rest of the season. But in 2016, he finished 13th in the season standings. On May 27 of this year, he failed to qualify for his first time in the 2018 Indianapolis 500.

This year, he plans to bring Toronto a victory. “Toronto needs a win. It deserves a win,” he told Breakfast Television interviewer Kevin Frankish.

Robert (Robbie) Wickens of Guelph, Ont., is also part of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team. He began racing as a karting prodigy and later won the Formula BMW Championship at age 17. That led him to Champ Car Atlantic and several European championships.

Wickens won the pole in his debut IndyCar race and dominated until contact at the end of the event took him out of contention. He’s now Hinchcliffe’s teammate and he’s also aiming for a victory on the Toronto track.

Zachary Claman De Melo of Montreal (Dale Coyne Racing) began karting at a young age and became one of the youngest ever Canadian National Karting Champions at age 14. He debuted in car racing in the 2014-15 Formula Skip Barber winter series.

He has posted an undefeated record in Formula 3 MSV and now competes with Carlin Motorsports in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ official driver development program, known as Indy Lights. He won his first Indy Lights race in 2017 and later made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Excitement is high for a Canadian driver to cross the finish line first on Sunday afternoon. But before that can happen, many other events take place during this 32nd edition of the Honda Indy.

Friday will be free for fans. All that’s asked is that spectators make a voluntary donation to Make-A-Wish Canada. All fan donations will be matched dollar for dollar by the Honda Canada Foundation.

There’ll be something for all ages at the Indy. Youngsters aged six to 12 can suit up in proper riding gear and take part in the Junior Red Riders motorcycle program free of charge. Race-inspired Honda vehicles will be on display, as well Acura’s NSX GT3 race car and its ARX-05 prototype. Honda World will also feature racing simulators.

There’ll be the raffle to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation, with chances to win “once in a lifetime experiences from the Toronto Blue Jays and the NHL.” It will also offer two tickets to anywhere WestJet flies and Hinchcliffe’s race suit from this year’s event. Honda Indy Toronto has also secured a ball signed by National Football League quarterback Matt Ryan, a Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs jersey and a Toronto FC team jersey for the raffle.

Starting on Thursday, July 12, the Indy Cycling Challenge in the afternoon will raise money to help Prostate Cancer Canada.

Friday’s schedule consists of practice and qualifying races, as does Saturday, with the NASCAR Pinty’s Series race from 3:25 to 4:45 p.m., followed by the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge from 5 to 5:45 p.m.

Sunday, July 15, features two early races, the USF2000 from 9:45 to 10:25 a.m. and the Pro Mazda at 10:40 to 11:25.

The Indy Lights Race 2 goes from 12:25 to 1:25 p.m. and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Race 2 runs from 1:40 to 2:25.

Following the driver introductions, the Verizon IndyCar Series race begins at 3:35 p.m. Bear in mind, the schedule is subject to change without notice.

Two-day admission is $55 and two-day reserved grandstand seats start at $85. Children under 12 are free when accompanied by a ticketed adult.

The event takes place in Toronto’s Exhibition Place, which is easily accessible by transit buses and streetcars. There will also be beer gardens, food vendors and entertainment on hand, although the weather forecast calls for rain and scattered thunderstorms on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. So bring an umbrella.

All told, it has the potential to be a spectacular race event, with something for the whole family, as long as the weather behaves. Cross your fingers and hope that the forecasters get it wrong – again!

Peter Bailey is an award-winning newspaper editor and writer with more than 40 years of experience. He specializes in automotive and travel writing, and lives in Hamilton, Ont.


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