The IZOD IndyCar Series makes it first foray into the Great White North of the season with this weekend's Honda Indy Toronto, an event won by Dario Franchitti last year.
Each of the past eight races held on the 1.755-mile Exhibition Place street circuit have been won by different drivers; the last driver to successfully defend his victory was Michael Andretti in 2001. Andretti is the all-time wins leader at the circuit with seven victories, a factor in his decision to purchase the race's assets in mid-2008 and rescue it after that year's running was cancelled due to the demise of Champ Car.
This weekend's event, as well as the Edmonton airport race two weeks from now, are widely celebrated by the Canadian fans, and are especially welcomed by the Canadian members of the circuit. Alex Tagliani and Paul Tracy, the two active Canadian IndyCar drivers, will each be running special paint schemes in the race - Tagliani a new Hot Wheels-backed livery, Tracy an equally impressive car backed by the Canadian arm of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Toronto Blue Jays.
But the drivers aren't the only ones returning to their home country this weekend. In fact, two of the engineers on the de Ferran Dragon Racing team, lead engineer Eric Zeto and performance engineer Scott Raymond, call the province of Ontario home. The team hopes to build on their momentum from Watkins Glen, where driver Rafa Matos finished an impressive 4th despite losing his in-car telemetry in the middle of the race. Matos finished 10th at Toronto last year.
Matos has certainly shown the speed this weekend, with his best lap in the second practice, a 62.3984-second run, good for fifth in that session. But 13 cars - half of the field - were within a second of that session's leader, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who turned a 62.1433-second lap.
Within those 13 cars, seven different teams are represented - Andretti Autosport, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Team Penske, de Ferran Dragon Racing, FAZZT Race Team, KV Racing Technology, and Chip Ganassi Racing. This suggests not only a close battle for pole position, but also a mammoth struggle just to make the Firestone Fast Six.
In the race itself, don't be surprised if Will Power and Justin Wilson challenge for victory. They are two of only four former Toronto winners in the field (the others being Tracy, who won it in 1993 and 2003, and Franchitti, who won in 1999 as well as last year). Power and Wilson were right on Franchitti's tail last year, finishing third and fifth, respectively, after starting second and fourth.
Television coverage of the Honda Indy Toronto begins on Sunday at 12:30 PM EST. The race will be shown on ABC.