Open-wheel racing not new to Toronto
An auto racing event on the streets of Toronto was first staged in 1986 as part of the PPG/CART IndyCar World Series. Then known as the Molson Indy Toronto, it marked the first time that open-wheel cars raced in the English-speaking part of Canada since the United States Auto Club sanctioned races on the Mosport road course about an hour north of Toronto in 1977 and '78.
|Michael Andretti in 2001 after winning the Toronto race for record 7th time|
The Toronto course is a combination of public streets and roads that wind their way through the Canadian National Exhibition Centre, a permanent fairgrounds area five minutes from downtown.
From the start, the 1.721-mile circuit was considered an exciting and challenging street course; the sharp, right-hand Turn 1 and the Turn 3 hairpin at the end of the back straight (known most of the year as Lakeshore Drive) provide excellent passing opportunities. The rest of the course is tight and technical, with the exception of the fast left-hander that closes the lap. That corner was modified in 1994 after Bryan Herta crashed and suffered leg injuries during the 1993 race.
The initial Toronto GP was won by Bobby Rahal -- part of the season in which he also won the Indianapolis 500 and the CART championship. However, the name most closely associated with the Toronto event is Michael Andretti, who won in 1989, '91, '92, '94, '95, 2000, and '01.
Other multiple winners include Al Unser Jr. (1988 and '90) and hometown hero Paul Tracy (1993 and 2003).
The winner of the Toronto race went on to win the CART-sanctioned championship six times -- Rahal, Unser (1990), Andretti (1991), Alex Zanardi (1998), Cristiano da Matta (2002) and Sebastien Bourdais (2004).
Driving a Walker Racing Reynard-Honda, Gil de Ferran set the outright track record at 57.143 seconds in 1999 for an average speed of 110.565 mph.
Returning to the streets with the IndyCar Series will be Tracy, who will drive a second entry for KV Racing Technology; 1999 winner Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing; 2005 winner Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing; and Will Power, winner of the last race on the circuit in 2007, who will drive for Penske Racing.
Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, which has won the Toronto race eight times, will enter Graham Rahal and series rookie Robert Doornbos.
With its enthusiastic new promoter in Andretti Green Promotions, proximity to downtown and the enthusiasm that the knowledgeable fans have for open-wheel racing, the revived Honda Grand Prix of Toronto promises to be a highlight of the IndyCar Series schedule for years to come.