Tracy gets back in the spotlight

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On most race weekends in the IndyCar Series, it's a given that Danica Patrick and, to a lesser extent, Helio Castroneves will be the drivers that dominate in the local and national press. But this weekend, the series is up in the Great White North to resurrect the Honda Indy Toronto, which served from 1986 to 2007 as one of the staple races for the Champ Car World Series. And as a headline in the Toronto Star declared this week, what would this race be without Toronto's own Paul Tracy? Both the driver and the race are coming back around this year after a 2008 season that saw Tracy compete in just one event and the famous street race go off the schedule in part to the sport's unification. But both return to competition under different circumstances. While drivers sound enthused about their return to Toronto, Tracy has had an up-and-down limited season. After finishing ninth at Indianapolis, Tracy's Toronto tuneup last weekend at Watkins Glen — which was his first crack at the famous New York road course — didn't end well with a crash on Lap 29. Tracy and KV Racing Technology co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser put it out of their heads as quickly as possible. The long-awaited homecoming for the "Thrill from West Hill" was looming and now it's here at last. He's sure to be the primary focus of the media and the Canadian fans that helped make him the heart and soul of Champ Car and have stuck with him through the last year and a half. "(Toronto's) always been the most important race of the year for me in my career," Tracy said. "I have a win there in '93 and I've won there a few times. I've always been very successful in Toronto and Vancouver and Edmonton. So, you know, I'm looking forward to it. They had a year off last year. The race didn't happen. I was off that year. So I'm looking forward to coming back and racing again in my hometown." As Tracy attempts to revamp his career, his beloved race is doing the same, too. Last year, Michael Andretti bought its assets and Andretti Green Promotions (which also runs the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg) is aiming to bring the event back to its former luster and standing on the city's social calendar. If anybody can do it, it appears that Andretti Green's the right group for the job. After eight years as an all-oval series, the IRL made its road racing debut in 2005 in St. Petersburg with AGP at the helm. The event has remained a focal point of the calendar, shifting to the season-opener beginning this season. A grid with familiar names will also help Andretti in his quest to return the Toronto race to glory. Names like Tristan Gommendy, Neel Jani, and Jan Heylen — participants in the last open-wheel race in Toronto — have been replaced by more familiar names like Tracy, Patrick and Castroneves at the top of the marquee, plus a litany of other stars such as Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Alex Tagliani. But how much would it all mean if PT wasn't there for the rebirth of his home race? Would Canadian fans care as much if he were absent? Even though they clearly enjoy open-wheel racing north of the border, it'd be a worthy question. One day, the 40-year-old Tracy won't be there and we'll have to ask it again then. That day may be coming sooner rather than later. But it isn't coming this weekend. And fans and press members alike will be watching to see if he can deliver what would be a very popular victory in his backyard. This weekend, it ain't Danica's party. It's not Helio's party. It's Paul's party. Considering that you can't spell party without PT, it's rather fitting.

The other Toronto racer

Tracy isn't the only hometown hero this weekend. Firestone Indy Lights combatant James Hinchcliffe, who also hails from Toronto, will be racing in the undercard race on Saturday. Currently sixth in the Indy Lights title fight, "Hinch" is happy to see his city's race brought back to life. "I think everyone in the town was gutted that we didn't make the calendar, but that's understandable," he said. "I think everyone is just extra pumped for this year, because they've had a year to think about it. I've been to every one since I was 18 months old. My dad's a huge race fan and he used to take us there as a family and then his company used to get a suite so we had VIP treatment a couple of times." On his Web site, he solicits laughs with many humorous videos, including one that sees him betting his team's PR person $50 to eat a nearly two-pound sub sandwich in 30 minutes — he fails, but Hinchcliffe gives him the cash anyway. Another has Hinchcliffe trying to cash a giant $1,000 novelty check (which came from a pole he won during his Atlantics Championship days), then unsuccessfully attempting to use it to buy massive quantities of pizza and beer. Something tells me he'll be all business on Saturday though, as he tries to get a victory in front of his countrymen.

Dale Coyne gets props from peers

After 25 years of trying, Dale Coyne finally became an open-wheel winner last weekend at Watkins Glen thanks to his driver Justin Wilson taking the Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen. DCR's victory seemed to be a quite popular win and solicited congratulations from many of Coyne's peers in the paddock, including major figures from the teams he and Wilson beat to the checkered flag.
"Congratulations to Dale on his first IndyCar win," said Roger Penske, who saw his driver Ryan Briscoe finish runner-up to Wilson. "Dale has been a great friend and a great competitor for many years, and we are very happy for him and his team. They worked very hard for this. I thought Justin Wilson drove a great race, and he certainly deserved the victory today." Target Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull was also happy for Coyne. "We're absolutely ecstatic for Dale Coyne winning the race," said Hull, whose team placed third with Dixon at the controls. "For a guy like Dale to put in not only the perseverance, but more importantly what he's done with his program this year. He stepped up to the plate with his program this year, and he's gotten results. "That's an owner that's taken the initiative to make it happen, and those are the kind of owners that make a difference in motor racing. He's done it on two levels, and we're very excited for him." Coyne had gone through 558 starts as an owner/driver and team owner before Wilson brought him to Victory Lane.
Tagged: Dario Franchitti, Danica Patrick

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