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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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)