TORONTO — Zach Veach was having an inconsistent rookie season before a top-10 finish at last year’s Honda Indy Toronto helped turn things around.
Faced with a similar situation ahead of this year’s race, Veach is hoping he can find that same momentum on the Toronto street course once again.
"I really did see Toronto as a turning point. For me it felt like I finally got rewarded for doing everything right," said Veach, who finished seventh at last July’s race. "It’s such a hard sport to get momentum in that once you get it on your side it really just allows you to ride that wave.
"This year seems to be the hardest year of my career. I don’t know if that’s just that sophomore slump that guys typically have but we’re trying everything we can to turn things around. I feel like another great result at Toronto would really set the second half (of the season) up for us like it did last year."
Veach’s seventh-place finish at the 2018 Indy came after starting in 22nd. The Ohio native could have had a better position after going strong in qualifying the day before, but he tried to be aggressive late and spun out.
That mistake was a growing pain for a rookie driver without much experience on the Exhibition Place course — he’d competed in just three IndyCar Lights races there before — but he rebounded nicely from it the next day.
"I think we passed like five or six cars on restarts and it’s usually hard to pass in Toronto," Veach said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. "I wish we had started a little better … This year I hope I can qualify inside the top 10 and if we pass all the cars we did last year I think it will be a pretty good day."
Veach called the Toronto course a "physical, brutal-type track."
"Your winters really play a havoc on those streets for all of us to be honest," he said with a laugh. "When you get ready for race day you know it’s going to be a long day and you’re going to be in some pain after but that’s what makes it so exciting. To do well there honestly all it takes is running a very clean race, not making any mistakes."
Veach had three straight top-10 finishes after Toronto last year and ended his rookie season 15th in the IndyCar standings. He heads into the weekend in 18th with 153 points over 10 starts. Josef Newgarden leads with 402.
Veach’s up-and-down season has seen him finish in the top 10 three times. But the Andretti Autosport driver also has placed 20th or worse in four races, including 29th at the Indianapolis 500 following a crash.
"We’ve always had really good speed but something’s happened," he said. "The Indy 500, with 30 laps to go we were running 11th or 12th and a crash happened in front of us that we couldn’t avoid.
"It’s just a lot of: we’ve been there but we couldn’t stay there the entire race, and that’s what we’re trying to turn around."
The 24-year-old flies to Toronto from his home in Indiana on Wednesday, two days before the first official practice on the city street course. Qualifying takes place Saturday with the race scheduled for Sunday.
Veach prefers to arrive in Toronto early to take in the sites of Canada’s largest city. An avid rock climber when he’s not in a race car, Veach said he’s found a few climbing gyms in the area that he likes to go to. He’s also hoping to get some tips on things to do from Oakville, Ont., driver James Hinchcliffe, who trains at the same facility as Veach during the season.
"A lot of us drivers don’t have family in Canada so we always end up giving Hinch all our family passes," Veach said. "And in return we try to get some good recommendations from him, or a free pass to his party."
Veach, who grew up in a small midwestern town, said he’s always been drawn to Toronto.
"It’s just a melting pot of so many different cultures and it’s cool to be around that," he said. "The feeling you get there is that you’re always welcome, which is really nice.
"I want to be an adopted Canadian one day. I have so much fun every time I go up there."