May 14, 2012
Hinchcliffe will bring star power to Honda Indy Toronto
By DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - There was a media event at Exhibition Place on Monday to announce that Honda Canada, Tourism Toronto and the City of Toronto have signed new deals to back the Honda Indy Toronto through to 2014.
But IZOD IndyCar Series boss Randy Bernard, who was in Toronto for the sponsorship announcement, said that it will be the star power of local boy James Hinchcliffe that makes this summer’s big race around the Exhibition Place temporary street course a must-see event.
Hinchcliffe, the 25-year-old native of Oakville, is currently third in points in the IndyCar championship after four races in his sophomore season in North America’s top open wheel series.
If there was an ongoing criticism of IndyCar over the past 15 years it was that it did not promote its drivers as stars — other than Danica Patrick — the way that NASCAR does for its Sprint Cup stock car drivers.
But Bernard said that Hinchcliffe is indeed a rising star in the IndyCar galaxy and the series plans to make the most of his personality and driving ability this season.
“James Hinchcliffe is a star,” the IndyCar Series president said. “He is the real deal. He is sitting third in points in the championship right now and he has one of the best sponsorships packages in all of sports with GoDaddy.com.”
Bernard said that in Hinchcliffe all of Canada, not just Toronto, has a superstar in the making and the promoters of the Honda Indy Toronto and the Edmonton Indy are well aware of his drawing power.
“We are seeing great drivers coming into our series,” he said. “Hinchcliffe also has one hell of a great personality and on top of all of that he is one of those great drivers.”
For IndyCar and the two Canadian races Hinchcliffe’s ascension to the top ranks of the series couldn’t come at a better time.
Toronto’s Paul Tracy — a former open wheel champion — won’t be in either Toronto or Edmonton this summer for the first time in more than two decades.
He told SPEED-TV in an interview earlier this week he is through with open wheel racing even as a one off in Toronto and intends to devote his considerable talents to sports car racing.
And Montreal’s Alex Tagliani — last season’s Indianapolis 500 pole sitter — is struggling this season after a rash of engine woes with his No. 98 Barracuda/Bryan Herta Autosports team.
Another reason that Bernard is smiling about IndyCar’s return to Toronto in July is that the race has become one of the most competitive and controversial on the calendar.
Last year four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti and Will Power feuded on and off the track. That bit of bitter enmity helped shoot the television ratings through the roof for both Toronto and Edmonton.
“When Will Power called Dario a “princess” after the Toronto race, the cable ratings for Edmonton (the next race) were the best of the season,” Bernard said. “I don’t quite know what it is but Toronto seems to bring out the best in our drivers.”
Bernard did admit all is not perfect for the IndyCar Series that is still trying to right itself after more than a decade of uncivil war between the then Indy Racing League and the former CART series.
One of the issues facing Bernard this season is a return to multiple engine manufacturers to the series.
Chevrolet and Lotus joined Honda this season in supplying teams with engines and Lotus has underperformed while Chevrolet and Honda are in a battle over the legality of each other turbo chargers.
One IndyCar team, Dragon Racing, has even filed a lawsuit against Lotus for promising more than they delivered.
Bernard dismissed such dust ups as normal business practice in big time racing.
“I think that we forget that we used to always have these problems,” he said. “There is always difficult times when you have engine manufacturers fighting for every advantage they can get.
“I don’t think this is a negative for the sport, if anything it adds more storylines, more controversy.”
And on the speculation that there will be fewer than the historic 33 cars on the grid at the start of the Indy 500 in less than two weeks because of the lack of engines, Bernard rejected such concerns.
“I think we will end up with 33 cars in the race,” he said. “I am very confident of that.”
Bernard also pointed to the balance sheet of the IndyCar Series as a reason to be confident that all is well in his little piece of racing real estate.
“We have hit our budgets — in fact we have bettered them the past two seasons — and I am thrilled with that,” he said. “We had a 28% growth on our television ratings last year and a 12% increase in attendance.
“In the first four races this season we are up on attendance by 12 to 20%.”
Tickets for the July 6-8 Honda Indy Toronto are now on sale at www.hondaindytoronto.com/tickets.