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PHOTOS: A day at the races in Toronto

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Led by winner Scott Dixon, drivers on Saturday speed alongside the Princes’ Gate at Toronto’s Exhibition Place, site of the Honda Indy. (Owais Qureshi/Vacay.ca)

Report by Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca Managing Editor
Photos by Owais Qureshi/Vacay.ca Sports Photographer

TORONTO, ONTARIO — As far as marketing schemes go, the first standing start in IndyCar history crashed and burned. What was supposed to be a historic moment for auto racing turned out to be a dud, and that’s too bad because the first of two Honda Indy races in Toronto this weekend featured entertaining competition that had every opportunity to win over new fans.

Wickedly fast, the sport makes you feel as if you’re on a roller-coaster even though you’re standing still. It’s the sound that races your heart and tickles your stomach, a relentless buzz whose octave level seems to climb and climb each time a car closes in on you. Even though it can be achingly loud, the noise keeps you riveted as you wait to see the cars zip by in an unbelievable buzz. Gleaming chrome and steel, they’re a terra-firma version of a meteor shower, brilliant blips that have you wanting to catch sight of more.

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Scott Dixon of New Zealand came out on top in a race that had numerous exciting passes and displayed some of the strategy that make races on this particular course attractive. For the weekend, Toronto’s Lake Shore Boulevard is turned into a technically challenging street course with tight turns and concrete bumps that can throw off drivers. Several crashes stalled Saturday’s 85-lap race, including a late smash-up that was caused when one of Dixon’s closest pursuers attempted a desperate move forward and ended up slamming into a wall. Australian driver Ryan Briscoe suffered a fractured wrist from another collision and will miss Sunday’s second race. Hometown favourite James Hinchcliffe finished eighth after starting from 13th position and moved up despite being clipped toward the end. Fellow Canadian Alex Tagliani was 17th.

The first standing start in the IndyCar circuit was supposed to be a showcase of flexibility. IndyCar vehicles introduced in 2012 were manufactured to perform standing starts, as Formula One cars have done for decades. The series first 11 races of 2013 all had traditional rolling starts, just as NASCAR uses. On Saturday, one of the 24 cars couldn’t get into first gear after the standing start and was stuck on the track as the other competitors raced around. The race re-started using a rolling start. Afterwards, it was announced that Sunday’s race would shift to a standing start.

“The fans deserve to see a standing start, so after consultation with the promoter, we have made the decision to implement a standing start for Sunday’s race,” said Brian Barnhart, senior vice president of operations for IndyCar.

The Toronto weekend, which features races on back-to-back days for the first time, also has four undercard competitions, including a hugely entertaining Super Trucks battle where giant four-wheel rigs chase each other while leaping over ramps. This is the first year the event is in Canada. Whatever your perception beforehand, you will be laughing at a zany spectacle that’s straight out of Cannonball Run. Racing icon Paul Tracy, the only Canadian to win the Toronto Indy, will participate in Sunday’s truck race that precedes the IndyCar finale. It is expected to be Tracy’s last competition of any kind in Toronto.

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More About the Honda Indy

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The Super Trucks are a high-flying hit at the Honda Indy weekend. (Owais Qureshi/Vacay.ca)

Sunday: IndyCar race starts at 3 pm, but don’t miss the Super Trucks competition slated for 2 pm.  See the Honda Indy schedule for full details.
Where: Exhibition Place, 210 Princes’ Boulevard, Toronto (see map below)
Grand Marshals: Toronto Maple Leafs‘ Dave Bolland (Saturday) and David Clarkson (Sunday) — both recent additions to the NHL team  — will be the ceremonial official starters for the weekend.
Pole Sitter: Race 1 winner Scott Dixon also claimed the first starting spot for Sunday’s finale.
Off-Track Events: Kids will enjoy the chance to learn about racing and to drive racing simulator games. There are also other attractions such as a Pit Stop Challenge and a motorcycle display. See more about the off-track events here.
Tickets: Sunday’s race tickets start at $60. Several tickets are still available for purchase. A portion of ticket sales goes to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Visit the Indy’s ticket page online for details on how to purchase.
History: The Toronto race, which debuted in 1986, was once a massive draw, with more than 70,000 people attending annually for years during the event’s peak in the early 2000s, when it was called the Molson Indy. However, the public soured on racing, in part because the environmental impact of car racing came under scrutiny, and the economic recession took its toll on a sport that relies heavily on corporate sponsorship. In 2008, no race was held in Toronto. Honda revived the race when it came aboard as the title sponsor in 2009. Attendance for last year’s race was estimated at 25,000 by media reports. It appeared the crowd on Saturday was less than that total.
More Vacay.ca Coverage: James Hinchcliffe’s Indy Memories

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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and his articles are frequently syndicated by the Huffington Post and appear in the Globe & Mail. He makes regular appearances on CTV News, TSN Radio and CJSF Radio, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. A former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing and fiction, and has visited more than 30 countries. He is also a judge for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and spearheaded the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada list that debuted in April 2012.