|Photo Credit: Chris Nagy|
For the 29th time, the streets of Toronto around the Exhibition Place is surrounded by concrete barriers serving as the layout for a fantastic motor racing spectacle. Starting Friday, the Honda Indy Toronto will have high-powered race engines roaring alongside the shoreline of Lake Ontario. The regular presence of the Toronto auto racing stop has been a testament to the vitality of motorsports in Canada. Sporting a familiar temporary street course that has underwent only minor changes since the inaugural 1986 event, the race remains the sight for a premier American open wheel racing series. The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Toronto bringing a close, contentious driver's championship with it. For 2015, the race reverts to the single-race format after a two-year experiment with a double-header style schedule. For Canadian race fans, the race remains the only opportunity for race fans to see the open wheel racing series in person without crossing the border.
The 2015 Honda Indy Toronto does arrive with some rather noticeable changes. The first being the event rescheduling in the middle of June instead of its usual July date. Done to accommodate the 2015 Pan-Am Games set to hosted in the Queen City, the effort to hold this summer tradition is appreciated by Canadian motorsport enthusiasts (even if it is before summer actually begins this year). Another change of routine at the 2015 Honda Indy Toronto will come due to an unfortunate circumstance and a troubling trend. For the first time in the race's history, no Canadian drivers are expected to be present in the main event race (IndyCar/CART/Champ Car competition).
The unfortunate component to the Canadian driver picture is thankfully mixed with a positive outcome. James Hinchcliffe, the only regular Canadian driver competing on the Verizon IndyCar Series for 2015, was building towards a productive season having won the Grand Prix of Louisiana in only his second race with his new team of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. At Indianapolis Motor Speedway prepping for the Indy 500, Hinchcliffe's car suffered a suspension failure that sent him hard into the wall. Sustaining serious injuries minimized by no small effort by the responsive safety crew, the entire motorsport world and his country of Canada were highly relieved that Hinchcliffe survived with his good spirits intact. With a long recovery process that puts a slim chance to returning to the race car this season, James Hinchcliffe will miss competing in the 2015 Honda Indy Toronto. A fondly cherished event for Hinchcliffe since childhood, he has referred to the race as Christmas. In a relief role for the Honda Indy Toronto, Conor Daly will pilot Hinchcliffe's #5 car.
With James Hinchcliffe out of competition for this Honda Indy Toronto, a problem has become evident in Canadian motorsports. Speaking earlier about the vitality of Canadian motorsports in past years, I can't help to be worried if we are reaching an age of extinction in regards to the support structure of auto racing in this country. Not only is there no Canadian drivers in the IndyCar competition this weekend, the puny 11-car entry list (as of June 8th) for the Indy Lights race has no drivers from Canada. After starting the 2015 season with the Indy Lights Series, British Columbia's Scott Hargrove saw his development cut abruptly short by his team (he will be competing in the Porsche GT3 Cup Canada race this weekend). Besides the Canadian Touring Car Championship and Porsche GT3 Cup Canada support series, there will be three Canadian in the Pro Mazda Championship (Garett Grist, Dalton Kellett and Daniel Burkett) as well as James Dayson and rookie standout Parker Thompson competing in USF2000.
A glass ceiling is keeping Canadian drivers out of the higher echelons of motorsport in North America. Whether its money, lack of support or other reasons, the good time appeared to have ended some time ago in Canada for auto racing competitors. In the 1990s, there was Jacques Villeneuve, Paul Tracy and the late Greg Moore that obtained superstar status inside as well as outside this country. There was so much talent in Canada that some drivers such as Claude Bourbonnais, David Empringham, Lee Bentham, Andrew Bordin and performed at a championship level but were never able to make a big step due to other great Canadian drivers at the time. There was a time where drivers wearing the maple leaf flag could gain notoriety In Canada or North America. Several promising Canadian racers need to venture to Europe to gain recognition for their skills. Lance Stroll and Luke Chudleigh are two recent young stars choosing the European path.
Maybe this is just a time in Canadian motorsport history where we just have to wait a little bit longer for developing talent to emerge in the grander spotlight. 17-year-old Parker Thompson is competing in his rookie season with the USF2000 Series but is showing himself as a quick learner. Hopefully this year's absence of Canadians in the Honda Indy Toronto's big race will be one-time deal.
Canadian Drivers Participating in Honda Indy Toronto IndyCar/CART/Champ Car Race from 1986 to 2014
1986: 1- Jacques Villeneuve Sr.
1987: 2- Scott Goodyear, Ludwig Heimrath Jr.
1988: 2- Ludwig Heimrath Jr., John Jones
1989: 2- Scott Goodyear, Ludwig Heimrath Jr., John Jones
1990: 1- Scott Goodyear
1991: 2- Scott Goodyear, John Jones
1992: 3- Ross Bentley, Scott Goodyear, Paul Tracy
1993: 2- Ross Bentley, Scott Goodyear, Paul Tracy
1994: 4- Ross Bentley, Scott Goodyear, Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve
1995: 2- Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve
1996: 3- Scott Goodyear, Greg Moore, Paul Tracy
1997: 3- Patrick Carpentier, Greg Moore, Paul Tracy
1998: 3- Patrick Carpentier, Greg Moore, Paul Tracy
1999: 3- Patrick Carpentier, Greg Moore, Paul Tracy
2000: 3- Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy
2001: 3- Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy
2002: 3- Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy
2003: 3- Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy
2004: 3- Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy
2005: 3- Andrew Ranger, Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy
2006: 2- Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy
2007: 2- Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy
2008: No Race Due to IndyCar/Champ Car Reunification
2009: 2- Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy
2010: 2- Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy
2011: 3- James Hinchcliffe, Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy
2012: 2- James Hinchcliffe, Alex Tagliani
2013: 2- James Hinchcliffe, Alex Tagliani
2014: 1- James Hinchcliffe