Drivers applaud Toronto return

It’s a sound Toronto racing fans have waited two years to hear.

John Turpin of Team Penske checks the pressure on tires on Thursday

TORONTO — It’s a sound Toronto racing fans have waited two years to hear.

The hum of a lone racecar whizzing around the Exhibition Place street course provided the perfect backdrop Thursday as IndyCar drivers met with the media ahead of Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. The race marks the return of open-wheel racing to Toronto following a one-year absence.

Toronto was one of the most popular stops on the Champ Car World Series calendar, but the event was scrapped last season after Champ Car merged with the Indy Racing League. The IRL had already set its schedule for 2008, and wasn’t prepared to bump its race at Watkins Glen, N.Y., in favour of Toronto.

Andretti Green co-owner Michael Andretti purchased the race after it was put up for sale, and he and Toronto driver Paul Tracy have been working non-stop to promote the event.

“I believe one of the main factors of the growth of open-wheel racing back in the 80’s was Toronto,” said Andretti. “I thought it was very important to keep it on our schedule. When I heard it was available and it wasn’t going to be on the schedule, I said ‘we have to figure out how to get it back.’

“We think it’s going to be a huge event, and huge for IndyCar in general.”

Tracy is a two-time winner in Toronto, but has been without a full-time ride since the Champ Car-IRL merger. He says he has been bombarded by fans since arriving in Toronto following a disappointing 20th-place finish at Watkins Glen last weekend.

“It’s been a busy week,” said Tracy, who will drive for PKV Racing. “I’ve done a lot of media, a lot of promoting. I’m ready to get in the car and just concentrate on driving.”

Competitors have long praised Toronto’s 1.72-mile, 11-turn temporary street course as one of the most challenging in open-wheel racing. The uneven driving surface rewards a steady hand, and the wide straightaway at Lakeshore Boulevard should see plenty of daring pass attempts.

“It’s a tricky track, it’s a challenging track, there’s a lot of pavement changes,” said Tracy. “There’s a lot of bumps and little things to catch you out.

“It makes it a very tough race to get through without making a mistake.”

The field will be one of the strongest to visit Toronto this decade. Early contenders include Scott Dixon, who has three race victories this season; Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti, who have two wins apiece; and Danica Patrick, a fan favourite who sits fifth in the overall drivers’ standings.

For the majority of drivers from the former Indy Racing League, Sunday will mark their first major competition on the Toronto course.

ut Tracy doesn’t think it will take long for the newcomers to become familiar with the track.

“The guys that are good who haven’t been here, they’ll get it figured out,” said Tracy. “You have three practice sessions and then qualifying, so there’s plenty of time.

“By the second day, people should have it figured out.”

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