2017 marks 50th anniversary of IndyCar in Canada

Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar racing, in its various forms, has long made a habit of visiting Canada, and this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto (July 16, 3:00 p.m. ET, CNBC) marks the 50th anniversary of the first Indy car event held north of the border.

That race, conducted at what is now called Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP), featured a pair of 100-mile outings that saw Bobby Unser win both. Later that year, the series returned to Canada, at the Circuit Mont-Tremblant, a race won by Mario Andretti, and IndyCar’s treks north of the border were off and running.

Along with CTMP and Mont-Tremblant, Canadian rounds of the IndyCar championship have been held at Sanair Super Speedway (1984-1986), Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (2002-2006), Concord Pacific Place in Vancouver (1990-2004), Edmonton City Centre Airport (2005-2012), and Exhibition Place in Toronto (1986-present).

Although somewhat intermittent in the 1960s and 1970s, Canadian races began their rise to prominence during the 1980s. Toronto joined the picture in 1986, coincidentally the final year CART (the sanctioning body at the time) visited Sanair, and the 1990s saw Vancouver join the mix to make for a pair of popular Canadian venues.

They peaked in their presence between 2002 and 2004, with Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve giving CART three races in Canada. Although Vancouver and Montreal dropped off the calendar in 2005, Edmonton was added that year and joined Toronto as mainstays on the calendar. Mont-Tremblant was added in 2007, again making for three Canadian rounds.

All three were again scheduled for 2008, but the IndyCar/Champ Car merger saw only Edmonton remain on the 2008 calendar. Toronto returned in 2009 to give the Verizon IndyCar Series two Canadian rounds before Edmonton dropped off after 2012.

Local hero James Hinchcliffe, who hails from the Toronto suburb of Oakville, highlighted Toronto as one of the most special venues of the year for him.

“As you’d expect, this is an event I look forward to every year,” he asserted. “It’s one of the busiest for me, but one of the most enjoyable, then to go home and race in front of the home crowd at the racetrack that I went to as a kid that really made me fall in love with IndyCar racing. Getting the chance to race there every year is exciting. The support that I felt from the city, and the entire country, has been overwhelming the last 100 starts of my career, and it’s going to be exciting to have number 101 there.”

Despite the prevalence of Canadian races, Canadian drivers have struggled to score victories in races on home soil. The last Canadian driver to win a race in Canada was NBCSN IndyCar analyst Paul Tracy, who last accomplished the feat in 2004, when he won at Vancouver.

TORONTO- JULY 11: Paul Tracy driving the Players Forsythe Racing Ford Lola during practice for the Molson Indy Toronto, round ten of the C.A.R.T (Championship Auto Racing Teams) ChampCar World Series on July 11, 2003 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

Tracy is also the only Canadian driver to win at Toronto, doing so twice in his career (1993 and 2003).

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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing

Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”