While it was announced today that the Honda Indy Toronto will continue to roar through the streets of the CNE and along Lake Shore Blvd. West through 2014, IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard thinks the 2012 race could use a little extra “oomph” and that the “oomph” could be supplied by Canada’s all-time winningest Indy car driver, Paul Tracy.
“I would really like to have Paul Tracy in this year’s race,” Bernard said Monday morning before a media conference in which it was announced that the race, the sponsor and the city of Toronto had agreed on a contract that will keep the annual summertime event in the city for the next three years.
“I would like to be able to promote the fact that Paul Tracy will drive his last (Indy car) race at the Honda Indy Toronto this July,” said Bernard, who participated in the contract announcement with race owners Green-Savoree Racing and representatives of city politics, city tourism and Honda Canada.
Tracy, of course, has not raced in the series this season and said during a TV interview at the weekend – he was racing in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series event in New Jersey – that he’d pretty much given up on IndyCar.
Tracy, a.k.a. the "Thrill from West Hill," broke into Indy car racing with the CART series in 1991 and was an employed driver until 2007, recording 31 victories and winning the Champ Car World Series title in 2003. Following the reunification of Indy car racing in 2007, Tracy – who was under a long-term contract to Chicago businessman Gerald Forsyth, who refused to participate in the new series – has been restricted to driving part-time schedules since.
In an interview with Toronto Star Wheels last year, Tracy vowed that unless he had a full-time ride in 2012, he would no longer accept temporary assignments.
“I want to compete next year — a full season — but if I can’t do that, if I can’t get a full season, I’m over trying to get into cars part-time, with part-time teams,” he said in November. “I’m not gonna race any more stuff part-time.”
Toronto and Edmonton have always been on Tracy’s schedule but even that scenario is out the window, he said at the time.
“I don’t see the point in it any more, running around at the back," he said. "The last four years that I’ve done it, I’ve been put in a spare car that’s been off in a corner of a race shop somewhere, and my crew has been a bunch of guys that they hired for the weekend. You can’t compete at this level any more doing it like that.”
While Bernard might like to land Tracy for the July 6-8 event, he knows he’s got an ace in Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe.
“What a great representative of Canada and Indy car racing he’s turned out to be,” Bernard said. “He’s third in the standings going into the Indianapolis 500 (May 27) and he’s doing a great job representing one of the major sponsors in the series, Go Daddy. I know he’s really looking forward to racing here in his hometown.”
Race co-owner Kevin Savoree (with Kim Greene) said the organization was delighted to have an agreement to keep the race in downtown Toronto and had never considered any other location for the spectacle – such as the rejuvenated Mosport International Raceway (now called Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) or the proposed one-mile speedway at Fort Erie – and that includes anywhere else in the GTA.
“When I say ‘here,’ I mean’here,’ as in the CNE,” Savoree said. “This is where we want to be and you can’t beat the location for our race.”
He did, however, leave the door open for a redesign of the course, in future.
“Actually, when you think about it,” he said, “there may be some opportunities going forward where Ontario Place might give us some additional options. We have an open mind when it comes to the circuit. Whenever we can make it more ‘raceable,’ then it’s something we have to consider.
“The thing about this race track that’s magical is Turn 3 (where the cars power down from about 200 miles an hour along Lake Shore to make a sharp right turn into the CNE just before the Better Living building) and so long as we have something like that, a very high speed, long straightaway going into a slow turn that becomes uphill, well it’s one of the great turns in all of racing.”
Councillor Mark Grimes, who represents Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore and doubles as chair of Ehibition Place, said after the announcement that approval for the race sailed through Toronto council despite some slight rumblings of dissent.
“We’ve had the odd complaint from the (nearby) Parkdale community,” Grime said, “but Councillor (Michael) Layton moved a motion that the race organizers do a study of the noise issue and to report back any complaints. You have to expect that in car racing.”
Charlie Johnstone, vice-president and GM of the Honda Indy, said the event conducts noise studies as a matter of course.
“We planned to do a study anyway,” he said. “We hadn’t done one for a few years but with the new engines (IndyCar opted for new cars and new engines for 2012) and the fact that they’re turbocharged, it was time.”