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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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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”