USF2000 Race #1 Winner Parker Thompson
USF2000 Race #1 2nd place Oliver Askew
Indy Lights Race #1 Winner Kyle Kaiser
IndyCar Post-Qualification Presser
Honda Indy Pole Winner Simon Pagenaud Presser
Pinty's SS Winner Kevin Lacroix
Pinty's SS 3rd place Adam Andretti
GT3 Cup Race #1 Winner Scott Hargrove
Friday at the Honda Indy it was all about the fan experience and final preparations for the racing teams. Practices for all six different races took place, along with qualifiers for; USF 2000, Mx5 and NASCAR Pinty's Series. Fans got the opportunity to meet and get autographs from their favorite race car drivers, while interacting with everything on Exhibition grounds. Saturday on the other hand was all about competition with five races and the qualifier for the big race on Sunday. Fans were in for a marathon of speed all day from when the gates opening at 7:45am until the final race finishing up just past 6:00pm.
After a morning of more qualifiers; USF 2000 (round 2), Indy Lights, GT3 and the third/final practice for the IndyCar Series teams before the big race Sunday, it was time for some racing. The very first race of the weekend was Race #1 of the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires with Toronto being the fifth stop of nine and lone Canadian stop of the circuit. The Streets of Toronto is also the shortest track on the circuit with a length of 1.786 miles, after drivers raced on the longest track of the circuit last month at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin of 4.014 miles in length. A battle which featured twenty-one competitors, along with two Canadians Marc Boily (Omemee, Ontario) and Charles Paquin (Ottawa, Ontario), both drivers for the McCumbee McAleer Racing team and sponsored by ModSpace Motorsports. Their teammate Patrick Gallagher (Thornville, Ohio) led the 2017 Championship standings coming into Toronto with 172 points, was looking to add to his 41 point lead over second place Nathanial Sparks (Spanish Fort, Alabama) who was last year’s Championship winner. He put himself in a good position to do so winning the pole with the fastest time late Friday afternoon of 1:24:7693, narrowly beating out the Puerto Rican rookie Bryan Ortiz with his best time of 1:24:8812. While Sparks’ best time of 1:25:2217 would land him in the 5thposition to start the race, rookie Matt Cresci (San Jose, California) 1:25:1588 and Tom Martin III (Redondo Beach, California) 1:25:2096 rounded out the top 5. 2.0L fourth generation Mazda had their engines purring at 11:00am when the green flag was waved and all the smells of racing filled the air at Exhibition Place. Youth combined with a difficult track led to an interesting start Saturday morning featuring two yellow flags at the beginning of the 45 minute timed race. Midway through, two packs formed with the front pack chasing down the 2nd to 6th positions, while Bryan Ortiz starting to flex his domination at the front of the pack. However with just under seven minutes left on the clock Robert Stout would take the lead and benefiting him with five and a half minutes left a third yellow flag was waved, allowing him to stroll to the checkered flag winning the first race of the weekend. The Palm Springs, California native would add to his 91 points on the season, looking to jump up the standings from 6th place. While standings leader Patrick Gallagher finished in 2nd place and the rookie Bryan Ortiz would have to settle for 3rd. While five of the twenty-one racers failed to finish as they made contact, they’ll all have to settle their nerves quickly as Race #2 is scheduled for 10:35am Sunday morning.
With barely enough time to use the restroom and get a snack, race fans would quickly return to their seats to ingest more competition as next up was Race #1 of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Toronto presented by Allied Building Products. The seventh of nine races on the circuit and as well the only Canadian race, Toronto features the second shortest track driver would maneuver through, after racing on the shortest last week of 0.875 miles on an oval in the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. A race to procure development in young drivers it featured seventeen entries, fourteen of which were rookies, hailing from eight different countries (USA, India, France, Mexico, Guyana, Brazil, Netherlands and Canada). Lots of eyes focused on the two Canadians competing in Jayson Clunie (Prince Albert, Saskatchewan) and Parker Thompson (Red Deer, Alberta) who are teammates on the Exclusive Autosport team. The rookie Jayson Clunie was 25th in the standings, while Parker Thompson’s 143 points was good for 4th coming into the weekend. Everyone was chasing Oliver Askew (Melbourne, Florida) though, the 248 points from the rookie of the Cape Motorsports team was 32 more than Dutch rookie Rinus VeeKay (Hoofddorp, Netherlands) of the Pabst Racing team sitting in 2nd heading into the event. The Alberta native managed to take the pole on home soil for Race #1 with the best time of 1:12:8164, barely ahead of Oliver Askew 1:12:8853 and Rinus VeeKay 1:12:9366. At high noon engines were turned on and ready to rip up the concrete/asphalt of the streets of Toronto, compared to the first race, things only got faster and louder around Exhibition Place, however this race was determined by time instead of laps much like the first. The Canadian from Red Deer showed tremendous poise finishing the race, the way he started it in 1st place, just 0:00:8730 in front of Oliver Askew, while Rinus VeeKay finished in 3rd. Six of seventeen entries did not complete the race, five as a result of contact and one because of mechanical reasons. Expect the same three names to battle at the front of the pack at 9:40am Sunday morning when the green flag is waved on Race #2.
After another brief break, the third race of the day would set up which was Race #1 of the Cooper Tires Indy Lights of Toronto presented by Allied Building Products. Indy Lights is a developmental racing series and is the highest step on the Road to Indy, think of it as AAA before finally getting called up to the big leagues in baseball. The Streets of Toronto is the tenth of fourteen races on the season and the fifth shortest track on the circuit, with the other four all being oval tracks. The race had fourteen entries, half of which are rookies and born from seven different countries (USA, Colombia, Argentina, France, Uruguay, Brazil and Canada). Another race with two Canadian born drivers; Zachary Claman De Melo (Montreal, Quebec) of Team Carlin sponsored by ZCD Montreal/Zoological Wildlife Foundation came into the weekend in 7th place in the standing with 160 points and the hometown boy Dalton Kellett (Toronto, Ontario) of the Andretti Autosport team was in 9th place. Still the 216 points by Kyle Kaiser (Santa Clara, California) of the Juncos Racing team made him leader of the pack, all be it just 13 points up on Brazilian rookie Matheus Leist of Team Carlin. Kaiser ended up winning the pole for Race #1 with a best time of 1:05:3511, with the rookie Leist finishing 0:00:2264 later for 2nd position, while the Canadians started 3rd (Calman De Melo 1:05:8388 and 4th (Kellett 1:05:8413). The 35 lap race was jammed pack with all the action you could ask for, it took only 5 laps for the first yellow as Matheus Leist hit the tire wall while Nico Jamin would follow up and clipped Leist, knocking both out of the race. Canadian Dalton Kellett had a day to forget, as he strayed off course, joining Leist/Jamin as the only three drivers out of fourteen to fail to cross the finish line. For the second straight race the pole winner in Kyle Kaiser would lead the entire time and take the checkered flag. He blew away the competition on the day, finishing 0:03:6118 in front of Canadian Zachary Calman De Melo who finished 2nd and 0:04:7984 in front of the man from Montevideo, Uruguay Santi Urrutia who finished 3rd. To a novice racing fan, you simply couldn't tell the difference between the Indy Lights and the 'big leagues' as the skills to pay the bills were evident in every driver on course. Fans will be sure to return for Race #2 Sunday afternoon at 12:15pm to see if Kyle Kaiser can sing a little Drake and go 'back to back' in Toronto.
After the conclusion of the three races, it was time for the qualifications for the big race on Sunday. After three practices on the track and a pit stop practice, teams would battle to win the pole on the streets of Toronto. The difficult track continued to claim more victims regardless of the race environment turning into a qualifying one, as Mexican rookie Esteban Gutierrez smashed into turn #11 taking heavy damage to the right side of the vehicle. Esteban had to be quick exiting the vehicle before emergency crews could come to his aid, as the rear end caught on fire immediately, he would escape unharmed. He would undergo concussion protocol and has not been cleared to race Sunday, but will be reevaluated Sunday morning by doctors. Minutes later JR Hildebrand (Sausalito, California) would take a turn to tight, as his front-end lifted, he could not find his grip before slamming into turn #8. Simon Pagenaud (Montmorillon, France) broke Will Power's fastest lap record in Toronto of 59:7747 set on July 16th 2016 with a new fastest lap time of 59:2922. He would then quickly beat his own record with a time of 58:9124 taking the pole and getting to start in 1st position for the big race. Graham Rahal (New Albany, Ohio) at 59:2245 finished in 2nd, while a pair of Pagenaud's Team Penske teammates filled out row 2 with Helio Castroneves (Sao Paulo, Brazil) at 59:4345 and Will Power (Toowoomba, Australia) at 59:4340 finishing 3rd/4th retrospectively. All of the drivers commented on how difficult turn #1, #8 and #11 made their day, with rain expected for Sunday's race it should only make the weekend's finale more interesting.
The big race of the day was the NASCAR Pinty's Series Race which derives from the old CASCAR Super Series which was founded in 1981. Canadian Alex Ranger (Roxton Pond, Quebec) who came into the weekend's race sitting in 3rd place in the standings with 158 points took the pole Friday afternoon with the best time of 76:785, while veteran Alex Tagliani (Lachenaie, Quebec) joined him in Row 1 with a time of 76:976. The leader in the standings with 174 points Kevin Lacroix started out in Row 2 in 3rd position with a time of 77:397. However he would dominate the 35 lap course and the Saint-Eustache, Quebec native would grab the checkered flag. Fellow Quebecer LP Dumoulin finished 2nd, while American Adam Andretti a Jostens Rookie of the Year contender finished in 3rd place on the podium. Andretti may have not won the race, but his performance from starting at the tail end of the pack to make it to the podium won over a ton of racing fans for the first American to make the podium in a NASCAR Pinty's Series Race. Many drivers post-race complimented the track, unlike their Indy colleagues, saying how it’s perfect for the Pinty’s Series race cars.
The final race of the day was the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada presented by Yokohama. A race which grows in popularity every year since its inaugural season in 2011, Toronto is the fourth stop of six on the year. Canadian Scott Hargrove from Surrey, BC took the pole in the qualifier earlier in the day with a new best lap time by class of 1:12:434 narrowly beating out Ottawa, Ontario's own Zacharie Robichon who had a time of 1:12:791. The timed race didn’t get the attention it deserved as many tired fans started looking for the exits at Exhibition Place. The diehards that stuck around were given a treat as Scott Hargrove would pick up his 5th victory of the season. Finishing in 2nd place was Robichon, 3rd place was Patrick Dussault and 5th was Gianmarco Raimondo. However, as leader in standings, 5th was good enough for Raimondo to capture the Gold Cup, allowing him to celebrate post-race. Race #2 will go down regardless at 1:40pm, the final race before Sunday’s big dance.
It’s borderline crazy to think that Saturday was just the entrée and that the main course is still to come Sunday, but that’s the reality. I couldn’t imagine a single fan who endured Saturday with pleasure, who wouldn’t return for even more action tomorrow. Sunday will feature four Race #2's; USF 2000, Mx5, Indy Lights and GT3, will all hit the track a second time before the main event where the green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:47pm. If you still have the opportunity to go to the big race Sunday, take it from someone who never had been to a racing event prior to today, GO!