Canadian racing an important part of IndyCar Series history

The United States and Canada share a border, but philosophies about auto racing are worlds apart.

While the USA is dominated by oval racing, Canada — much like the rest of the world — has a strong preference for road racing. And certainly for the past 40 years there is a rich history of Canadian open-wheel road racing to draw on.

In that respect, 1967 was a banner — the first Canadian Grand Prix for Formula 1 cars and the first Canadian appearance by Indy cars. Both occurred at Mosport Park (now Mosport International Raceway), a 2.4-mile road racing facility just outside Toronto that opened in 1961 as the nation's second purpose-built road course.

The F1 Canadian GP was staged from 1967-2008, with the exception of 1975 and 1987. It was held at Mosport from 1967-77 (excluding 1968 and 1970, when it was run at the Circuit Mont Tremblant in Quebec), and from 1978 onward at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on the Ile Notre Dame in Montreal. Canadian GP winners is a who's-who of Formula 1 history, with names including Brabham, Stewart, Fittipaldi, Villeneuve, Piquet, Prost, Senna, Mansell, Hakkinen and Schumacher.

Mosport hosted top-level international sports car races beginning in 1961, attracting racers such as John Surtees and Indianapolis 500 winner and F1 champion Jim Clark. Indy-style competition began limited forays into road racing beginning in 1965.

Mosport's twin 100-mile USAC events in 1967 were won by Bobby Unser. Dan Gurney swept the Mosport 100-milers in 1968 in an Eagle chassis of his own construction, but it would be almost a decade before the USAC Championship Trail returned to Canada when A.J. Foyt won. The following year, Danny Ongais dominated Indy-style racing's final visit to Mosport, winning by 40-plus seconds over Rick Mears.

Although oval track racing is a rarity, the PPG/CART IndyCar World Series raced on the 0.826-mile Sanair Speedway tri-oval in Quebec from 1984-86. Johnny Rutherford claimed one of his final Indy-style triumphs at Sanair in 1985, while Bobby Rahal won the last of the Sanair races.

In 1986, the Molson Indy Toronto, which makes its debut on the IndyCar Series schedule this year renamed as the Honda Indy Toronto, was conducted for the first time. Rahal was the victor in a race that quickly developed into one of Canada's most popular and successful sporting events. Staged on a 1.8-mile street course, the race was won no fewer than seven times by Michael Andretti, whose company has taken over the promotion of the event.

The immediate success of the Toronto Indy car race encouraged Molson to create the Molson Indy Vancouver on a downtown street course in the western Canadian city. Al Unser Jr. and Michael Andretti dominated the first six years, scoring three wins each; other Vancouver winners familiar to current IndyCar Series fans include Dario Franchitti (a two-time champion) and Paul Tracy, who matched Andretti and Unser with three victories.

The Molson Indy Montreal was revived in 2002 for a five-year run, contested on the same Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve that hosted the F1 Canadian GP. Franchitti was the inaugural winner; other champions included part-time IndyCar Series competitors Bruno Junqueira and Oriol Servia.

Indy-style racing visited Alberta for the first time in 2005 when Champ Car hosted its first race at Edmonton City Centre Airport in 2005 with the race now known as the Rexall Edmonton Indy and returned to Quebec with the Champ Car World Series running a one-off event at the Circuit Mont Tremblant in 2007 that was won in the rain by Robert Doornbos.

With road racing taking an increasingly important role in the IndyCar Series championship, expect the Honda Indy Toronto and Rexall Edmonton Indy to receive a warm reception from the knowledgeable Canadian fans.

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