Since the IZOD IndyCar Series is rolling into my home town again this weekend, I thought I'd offer a preview of what fans can expect from Sunday's race on the streets of Toronto.
...Oh. I've been informed that 34 words isn't long enough for an INDYCAR Nation article. Allow me to elaborate.
There are those who love the slicing-and-dicing, unpredictable style of racing that's produced by concrete canyons like the street course at Exhibition Place, and there are those who abhor it. Fans from the former group will come away with smiles even broader than usual on Sunday. On top of the usual issues that come with the rough surfaces and tight confines of the Toronto street course, the primary reason that things will be even more dicey is the high number of drivers going into this weekend with something to prove.
At the top of this list are the Canadian drivers, and the driver among those who will be under the most scrutiny is unquestionably James Hinchcliffe. With Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani appearing to be in the twilights of their careers, Canadians have been desperately seeking a young racing star to support, and the Toronto crowd won't hesitate to let Hinch know that they hope they've found that driver in him. He's only in his rookie season, but this is the home town race for both him and his sponsor, and he's driving for Newman/Haas Racing, the team that's had more success at this track than any other. Hinch is going to be under an enormous amount of pressure to perform -- so much so that resisting the urge to push too hard and just bringing the car home in one piece will be akin to a victory.
Of course, both Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani will be under a great deal of scrutiny as well. Tag is driving for his ride amid rumors that his current funding runs dry after Edmonton, so he's hungry to follow up on the success he saw in qualifying on the pole at Indianapolis and Texas. And PT -- well, since PT is once again driving in his home town while not in a full-time ride, he's got nothing on his mind but winning. PT, a street course known for high attrition, and the knowledge of having nothing to lose make for a volatile combination.
But the Canadians aren't the only ones feeling the heat at this point in the season. After missing Iowa due to a concussion she sustained in her qualifying crash at Milwaukee, coupled with her horrific wreck at Indianapolis, Simona de Silvestro is keenly aware that all eyes are on her. There's been some concern that Simona may be feeling rattled after facing so many challenges in such quick succession, and she'll be looking to get back into Pork Chop (as she and her team have affectionately nicknamed her car) and put up a strong performance, especially now that the Series is returning to her more familiar domain of road and street courses.
Speaking of concussions, Will Power will be feeling pressure to post a good result this weekend in the face of the pit incident and subsequent wreck at Iowa that set him back in the championship. The upcoming schedule heavily favors Will's expertise, but Dario is a formidable adversary, and Will can't afford to fall any further behind in the points if he is to keep his title hopes alive.
And this list is just a start. Scott Dixon has had a dismal start to his season and needs to post a win soon or draw question of whether he's lost his edge. Helio Castroneves has struggled on road and street courses this year and is drawing fire for his on-track behavior, and he needs to show that he can perform well and cleanly. Ryan Briscoe has rumors swirling around him yet again that Roger Penske may be looking to cut back to a two-car team at the end of this season and that he may find himself on the sidelines. KV Racing is still searching for its first win under combined INDYCAR sanction, and Tony Kanaan desperately wants to be the one to bring that home.
Fold all of this into a field of 26 drivers all racing double-file toward a very narrow and concrete-lined turn 1 -- not just at the start but on every single restart -- and the result is a recipe for disaster.
Hang onto your hats and the edges of your seats, folks. This one's going to be a crazy ride.