Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens both figure to be particularity revved up for this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto.
Wickens, who spent the past decade of his racing career in Europe, will be laying rubber under the Princes’ Gate for the first time as a 29-year-old IndyCar rookie. Hinchcliffe, meanwhile, is riding high after earning top spot at the Iowa Corn 300 last Sunday, a win that marked his first victory since the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach 15 months ago.
There’s reason to believe both can be contenders for the checkered flag on the streets of Toronto, but the last Canadian to win in Hogtown knows there will be an added strain on the Canucks.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure,” says Paul Tracy, who won the race in 1993 and again in 2003 as part of a dominant run that saw him claim the Champ Car World Series title with Forsythe Championship Racing that summer.
There’s no doubt both Hinchcilffe and Wickens will stir ample amounts of attention and expectation. The latter is from Guelph, Ont., just an hour outside the city, while the former grew up in the Toronto suburb of Oakville. Hinchcliffe used to joke that he had a love-hate relationship with the race: He loved it, but the race seemed to hate him based on the fact he never finished higher than eighth in his first six appearances. However, the “Mayor of Hinchtown” and Dancing With the Stars runner-up has taken third place in each of his past two home-soil events and must have experienced a confidence injection coming off his triumph in Iowa.
“Certainly, for James, it’s got to be a sigh of relief,” says Tracy, now a race analyst for NBCSN. “But, along with that, people are kind of expecting, ‘Oh, [now] you’re going to win here, too.’ It’s kind of a double-edged sword.”
The mental challenges are one thing, but Tracy points out there are tangible differences that make a home race tougher to negotiate. All the non-Canadians could stick to their normal regimens following the last race. The SPM boys, however, had to head north right away and jump on the publicity tour, making various appearances to pump the event.
“That’s taxing,” says Tracy, now 49 years old. “The other guys like [top drivers Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon], they’re in the gym, training and getting ready for the race and Robert and James are up in Canada doing promotion. [That] kind of kicks them off of their routine.”
Still, Canadian fans have every right to get excited about the prospect of a “hometown” win. While Hinchcliffe — who endured a rough patch when he failed to qualify for the Indy 500 in May — is probably feeling the best he has in a long time, Wickens has also shown great potential as an Indy freshman, registering a handful of top-five finishes so far. Tracy, who was actually part of the same Forsythe racing family the younger Canadians belonged to while working their way up the junior ranks about a decade ago, knows both men have the potential to start the biggest race-related party in this country since his Toronto triumph 15 years ago.
“It would be huge,” he says.