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Rahal, Andretti hope to follow in fathers’ winning footsteps at Toronto

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The Honda Indy Toronto is always one of the most anticipated races on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

Drivers look forward to racing on the challenging temporary street course around Exhibition Place, downtown Toronto and hugging the adjacent lakeshore.

But there’s special significance for one driver in this Sunday’s annual renewal north of the border.

And his father.

It was 30 years ago in 1986 that Bobby Rahal won the inaugural race at Toronto. While it was the elder Rahal’s only win there, he had a total of seven podium finishes in 13 starts.

Rahal’s son, IndyCar star Graham Rahal, would like nothing more than to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his father’s win with his own first win at Toronto.

The younger Rahal’s best finish to date at Toronto has been fifth (2010).

“Toronto is a special race for all of us,” Rahal said. “I think the Canadian fans always love and respect what we do and come out and support us in big numbers.

“Obviously it would always be great to win in Toronto, but doing it 30 years after Dad won would certainly be cool as well.”

The 2016 season has been a mixed bag thus far for the younger Rahal. He’s still seeking his first win of the season, but also has two podium finishes and five overall top-five showings.

At the same time, he’s coming off a 16th place finish – tying his worst showing of the season – this past Sunday at Iowa.

Rahal has been as high as fifth in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings. That came after the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Two weeks later at the Indianapolis 500, even though he finished 14th in the race, Rahal dropped seven places to 12th.

After climbing back up to eighth in the rankings after his third-place finish at Road America, Rahal fell one spot to ninth in the standings after Iowa.

Now, with six races remaining on the schedule, one thing is pretty clear for Rahal: from this point on it’s all about winning.

“I’m more just focused on winning, whatever that may take,” Rahal said. “I am sure it will be a hard-fought race and weekend, but our Rousseau team is ready to battle hard.

“It’s very important to have a good weekend at the Honda Indy Toronto. We really got unlucky and struggled with terrible vibrations in Iowa. We must bounce back and have a good weekend, points-wise, because we are definitely further back than we want to be or should be in points. I have high expectations.”

It’s been a rough season for Marco Andretti. Photo: Getty Images

Another driver who has high expectations, and also has his father as inspiration heading to Toronto, is Marco Andretti.

The younger Andretti has endured a difficult season thus far. In the first 10 races, he’s cracked the top 10 just once (ninth at Belle Isle 2).

Andretti comes into Sunday’s race ranked 16th. If the season were to end today, that would be the worst season finish Marco has experienced in his entire IndyCar career.

But the younger Andretti has high hopes that he can turn things around in his 10th career start at Toronto, a place where his best finish has been a pair of fourth-place finishes.

Adding to Andretti’s inspiration for this weekend is father and team owner Michael Andretti has been the most dominant driver in Toronto race history with seven wins and 10 podium finishes in 16 career starts there.

Grandfather Mario Andretti never won at in nine starts at Toronto, but did have one runner-up and four top-fives.

“With dad having seven wins in Toronto, I have some big shoes to fill on those streets,” Marco Andretti said. “It is a great street circuit, though, and the organizers always do such a good job with the event.

“The fans in Toronto are passionate and educated, so we always feel welcome. I’m looking forward to being in the Dr Pepper colors this weekend and hope we can produce some results.”

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Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

VEACH OUT: Driver elects to vacate seat for rest of season

“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”