By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
TORONTO — The 2018 Honda Indy Toronto kicks off with Mazda Road to Indy practice ahead of Sunday’s race for the Verizon IndyCar Series and looking ahead, it figures to be a banner weekend.
James Hinchcliffe is coming off of a win in the Iowa Corn 300 last week at Iowa Speedway but has some mixed odds heading into Toronto. Despite having two third place finishes on the streets near Exhibition Place, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 polesitter has not finished higher than sixth in any race following any of his previous victories. In fact, that sixth place finish at Barber Motorsports Park in 2017 is his only top-10 finish immediately after a victory.
Hinchcliffe has been overshadowed by fellow Canadian and teammate Robert Wickens for much of the year. The former DTM racer won pole position in his first IndyCar race on the streets of St. Petersburg and was leading late until an incident with Alexander Rossi on the final lap of the race dropped him down the order. Wickens will look to shine in his first race in Canada for a long while.
Elsewhere down the field, many top runners in the IndyCar points had issues and Iowa and will look to rebound in Toronto. Scott Dixon was the last Honda driver to win the Honda Indy Toronto in 2013, sweeping that weekend when it was a doubleheader. The 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner finished 12th in Iowa and Ryan Hunter-Reay was 19th following a suspension issue, ending both drivers’ streaks of top-five finishes.
Going to the Mazda Road to Indy, all three championships have doubleheader weekends planned with the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires having an interesting statistic. The last three seasons have seen Toronto be swept by one driver, be it Spencer Pigot in 2015, Felix Rosenqvist in 2016 and Kyle Kaiser in 2017. Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta have won all but two races this year and Herta has the championship lead over O’Ward 283-275.
In Pro Mazda, BN Racing is coming off of a doubleheader sweep in Road America with David Malukas and will be looking to further go up the championship standings. However, Parker Thompson and Saskatchewan-based Exclusive Autosport will do their best to put a stop to that by trying to get Thompson his fourth and fifth victories in Toronto this weekend. Thompson swept the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda races and won one of the USF2000 races in 2016.
In USF2000, Kyle Kirkwood is looking to further put the championship out of reach and has a chance to nearly clinch the title this weekend depending on how his championship rivals fare. Currently, Kirkwood has a 94 point lead over Alex Baron but Baron is not participating in Toronto so Kaylen Frederick is the de facto next in standings at 105 points back. The Floridian could skip the next three races in the championship and still have the points lead but a strong showing from Kirkwood could put the championship out of reach for his competitors. A perfect bonus point weekend would give the Cape Motorsports driver 283 points.
Race times (all times Eastern):
Pro Mazda: 10:50
Indy Lights: 12:40
Pro Mazda: 10:40
Indy Lights: 12:25
Honda Indy Toronto: Broadcast begins at 3:00, green flag at 3:42. 85 Laps.