Devlin DeFrancesco's home debut at Honda Indy Toronto comes after 'a lot of sacrifice'

Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport driver Devlin DeFrancesco (29) of Canada competes during an IndyCar auto race at the Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 10, 2022, in Long Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

There are plenty of people excited to see the Honda Indy Toronto return to the city's downtown streets for the first time in three years.

But no one is as excited as Devlin DeFrancesco, who is in his rookie IndyCar season for Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport and will be racing at home for the first time in his NTT IndyCar Series career.

"I'm excited — I'm hugely excited for it, grateful to have such a great fan base in Canada and in Toronto, and it's definitely gonna push me and to try and push even harder to get to get a very good result for that," he said in an interview.

The 22-year-old DeFrancesco competed in Indy Lights in 2021, scoring two podiums, nine top-five finishes, and 18 top-10 finishes. In 2020 he raced on the Indy Pro 200 circuit and was named Rookie of the Year after finishing second in the championship.

The driver of the No. 29 Honda-powered car currently sits 22nd in the IndyCar Series with 99 points, with one of his best finishes of the season coming from his previous race earlier this month at the Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio where he finished 17th.

DeFrancesco began karting back in 2006 and has been racing ever since, including overseas. In 2017 he was the Spanish Formula 3 Championship champion, and in 2019-20 he finished seventh in the F3 Asian Championship.

"It was a big step for me to originally go to race in Formula 3 in Europe, and then making a decision with my management team and family to come back to the U.S. and aim to get to the NTT IndyCar Series, to jump in with a great team but I'm ready," said DeFrancesco.

"To be fighting to the championship until the last race in Indy Pro, ultimately finishing second after just jumping in, having to learn the tracks, everything was new, but it was quite a nice feeling."

DeFrancesco left F1 to join Indy Pro 2000 in 2020 because he was looking for a new challenge. And even in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, that would prove to be a good decision to help grow his racing career.

Since moving to Andretti Autosport in 2020, DeFrancesco has been climbing the ranks each year. His performance in Indy Lights last season gave him his current seat in IndyCar alongside seasoned veterans in the racing world.

"I was honestly quite sure about the path that I wanted to take, you know, coming back here to the U.S., when we originally came back, Indy Lights was actually cancelled two weeks before everything was supposed to start," said DeFrancesco.

"It was like, 'whoa, what are we going to do now? Our championship has been cancelled.' We ended up just doing Indy Pro and everything getting delayed by a year, but everything worked out great and everything worked out for a reason."

With the season more than halfway done, Toronto will be a crucial race for title contenders and multiple drivers looking to get as many points as possible out of the track. Coming from backgrounds of Formula 1 and NASCAR, IndyCar races take place on a combination of street, road and oval courses that change week to week. IndyCar is unpredictable, DeFrancesco says, because of the wide range of tracks.

"I think IndyCar is the most diverse racing series in the world. You have to be good on street courses, you have to be good at ovals and you have to be good at normal road courses. Having to adjust to all three," said DeFrancesco.

"I think that's why in IndyCar there's a different winner each race, the grids are constantly changing, the guy who won the last race was P16 the next race. It always creates a lot of opportunity and therefore, as a result, exciting racing."

The Andretti Autosport name carries a fair bit of weight as the rookie is under the guidance of Michael Andretti, who competed for 19 years in CART before competing in the IndyCar Series in 2003.

Andretti is the all-time leader in Honda Indy Toronto wins with seven, but the last time an Andretti Autosport driver won the race was in 2012 when Ryan Hunter-Reay claimed the trophy.

"Every race there's pressure, we have to go out and perform and do our best and we just need to keep working and moving forward," DeFrancesco said. "There's always pressure but it's a good pressure when you have such amazing people around you and a great team of people behind you ... it's a very rewarding feeling when you deliver."

Even with a rich history and a family name attached to the No. 29, the way that the Canadian driver approaches his style of racing is all about achievement on his own terms.

Those statistics don't equate to pressure for DeFrancesco, who is more excited to perform in front of his home crowd as a rookie and hopefully bring results to those cheering on the Canadian driver.

"Toronto is a race that nobody has been to in two years now, I think it's going to be split up a lot, a bunch of surprises, it's going to be just as much of a race of attrition as it is a race of pushing and executing with good strategy because no one's been there — it's an unforgiving street course, it's bumpy, it's tough," DeFrancesco said.

"We were pushing hard for good results the last few weekends. For us, we've had very good speed, but they haven't been clean weekends, there's no reason why we can't be fighting up at the front. So (we want) just a smooth, clean weekend with good execution."

As DeFrancesco gets to race in front of the hometown crowd for the first time, the impact he makes as an inspiration for young Canadians who are looking at a future in racing is not lost on him.

Being able to be a role model and hopefully bring a great result to the Andretti team as well as his home crowd is a privilege for DeFrancesco that motivates him as the race approaches.

"It's very inspiring, and almost just to sit back and enjoy and feel very grateful to be in the position that I'm in because it's taken a ton of work to get here, a lot of sacrifice, and anything you do in life you have to work hard for it," DeFrancesco said.

"My manager would always tell me, 'you put 10 in, you get one out,' you don't expect a one in and to get one out — put in high-quality work and that's really the name of the game."

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