TORONTO — The Mayor of Hinchtown will be at the Honda Indy Toronto after all.
James Hinchcliffe will serve as grand marshal for the race Sunday at Exhibition Place. The 28-year-old Oakville, Ont., native won’t drive after being seriously injured May 18 during practice for the Indianapolis 500.
Charlie Johnstone, the president of the Honda Indy Toronto, said Thursday that Hinchcliffe has received medical clearance to travel to Toronto. One of his duties Sunday will be to give the traditional “Drivers, start your engines,” command to start the race.
“James is a great friend of the race, he’s our home-town hero,” Johnstone said. “We’re blessed his recovery has gone as well as it can and he’s been cleared to join us.
“I think that’s a huge testament to him wanting to be here with his team, fellow drivers and IndyCar family. But it’s also what he wants to do for the community and his home-town race.”
This will mark the first time since Hinchcliffe joined IndyCar in 2011 he won’t drive in Toronto, where he finished a career-best eighth in the first of two races in 2013. But Hinchcliffe is expected to make a full recovery after suffering a life-threatening injury when a piece of his suspension broke during the crash and pierced his leg.
Juan Pablo Montoya leads the driver’s standings with 348 points, 35 ahead of Penske teammate Will Power. Scott Dixon, of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, is third 305 points with another Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, standing fourth with 286 points.
Dixon swept the Toronto doubleheader two years ago en route to capturing his third overall crown. But Sunday’s race will be the only one this weekend.
“The two-race format is good for the fans . . . but I can tell you on the teams it’s pretty difficult, it’s pretty hard, it’s extremely draining,” said driver Graham Rahal. “This year at Detroit was absolutely brutal, Detroit was the longest weekend of anybody’s life, I think, with the constant rain.
“That’s the worst case and unfortunately when you get put into that position the last thing you want to do is two races. However, I do see it from a fan’s side of things.”
Rahal, whose father Bobby won the inaugural Toronto race in 1986, is fifth overall with 261 points for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The junior Rahal has registered podium finishes in three of the last four road-course races and said Toronto’s 11-turn, 1.755-mile temporary street circuit is very challenging.
“If you make a mistake those concrete walls seem to pretty darn close every time,” he said. “There’s no margin (for error) at all out there.
“But that’s what’s fun about it and what’s challenging and separates the men from the boys come race day.”
Graham Rahal’s solid showing this season has come with his famous father noticeably absent from the pitbox, a move the younger says was by design.
“I can certainly get pretty fired up in the car at times,” Rahal said. “And when I was getting fired up he was just firing right back to me in the pitstand and it didn’t work out too well sometimes so we decided this would be the best way forward.
“I think the bigger part of success comes from the team that’s around us versus Dad and I.”
But the ultra competitive nature of both father and son did create some tension on the track.
“I think the hardest things, always the most obnoxious things to hear were when he’d be sitting there in the pitstand and (say), ‘Well, we really need you to pass that guy,'” Graham Rahal said. “It’s like, ‘Are you freaking kidding me? It’s not like I’m out here cruising around not trying to pass him.’
“Those are the sorts of things that get you pretty ticked off when you’re trying extremely hard but just can’t make any headway and of course they come on radio and start telling you that you need to try harder. We haven’t had that this year and fortunately have had some good runs of things so far.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press