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Toronto a final chance for street course success in 2017

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Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto (3:00 p.m. ET, CNBC) marks the final street course of 2017 for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The previous four street races (St. Petersburg, Long Beach, and the Detroit doubleheader), have been a mixed bag of sorts.

Heavy hitters Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, and Josef Newgarden have all finished inside the top ten at every street race this year, with Dixon faring the best with finishes of third, fourth, second, and sixth.

However, a number of drivers will be hoping to turn around a season of hard luck on street courses this weekend. Chief among them is likely Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has been fast at every street course this year, but has also suffered horrible luck.

Though his season started off well with a fourth-place finish at St. Petersburg, Hunter-Reay has finishes of 17th, 13th, and 17th at the other street events, this despite showing strong pace at Long Beach and Detroit Race 2 in particular. However, an electronics failure at Long Beach and contact at Detroit Race 2 left him with finishes far worse than expected.

Still, Hunter-Reay remains upbeat ahead of the weekend. “Toronto is such a great track and is a great city. It’s one of my favorite cities to go to and Racing for Cancer is having The Rally there this year, co-hosted with James Hinchcliffe. It’s going to be a fun weekend, and hopefully, we can go for win No. 2 for the DHL team in Toronto,” said the 2012 Toronto winner.

Ryan Hunter-Reay in practice at St. Pete: Photo: IndyCar

Teammate Alexander Rossi will also look to score better at Toronto than the other street circuits, notably at St. Petersburg and Long Beach, where he finished 11th and 19th (Long Beach saw him suffer an engine failure). However, he rebounded nicely at Detroit, scoring finishes of fifth and seventh.

Max Chilton (16-14-11-15), JR Hildebrand (13-11-17-18), Marco Andretti (7-20-12-13), and Conor Daly (15-16-22-12) are also among those looking to end the 2017 street courses on a high note in Toronto.

One driver to watch, however, will be Graham Rahal, the man who swept the weekend at Detroit and could have finished on the podium at Long Beach if not for contact that punctured a tire late in the race.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s road and street course program has become as strong as anyone’s in the Verizon IndyCar Series, with Rahal scoring three wins and eight total podiums on road and street courses since 2015.

“I feel like we are in a pretty good spot with the basic setup for our race car for street courses, so I hope it’s a really strong weekend for the Rousseau Metal Honda,” said Rahal.

“The course is very similar to Detroit in many ways. It’s very bumpy, very tight and there are no margins for error. There are a lot of different pavement types and it’s very slippery on the concrete, which make it similar to Detroit. Going there with the setup basics that brought us two wins in Detroit gives us reason to be confident heading to Toronto and hopefully it works out like it did in Detroit.”

First practice for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto begins Friday at 10:40 a.m. ET.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Usain Bolt, Bill Clinton among headline guests for USGP at COTA

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The Circuit of The Americas paddock ahead of the United States Grand Prix may have been busy with teams and drivers preparing for lights out, but much of the attention lay with a number of headline guests including former presidents and Olympic champions.

As part of its plans to up the excitement levels ahead of Sunday’s grand prix and mirror other sporting events, F1’s new owner, Liberty Media, announced plans a couple of weeks ago to link up with iconic boxing announcer Michael Buffer and eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt for the pre-race festivities.

Ahead of today’s race in Austin, Buffer will introduce the drivers in a number of groups before offering the call for drivers to start their engines, similar to the pre-race procedure for the Indianapolis 500.

Honorary race starter Bolt, who competed in his last athletic world championship event in London earlier this year, will appear on the start line to complete his signature victory pose before waving the green flags to launch the formation lap.

Bolt was also treated to a hot lap around COTA by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton before the start of the formal pre-race build up program in Austin.

Liberty issued a list of celebrities and other public figures who are confirmed to be attending today’s race, including Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden and actor Owen Wilson among others.

One name that wasn’t on the list? 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who quickly became a focus for the paddock upon arrival three hours before lights out.

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and NBC Sports app from 2pm ET today.