IndyCar drivers gets their kicks at weekend-opening media event

“Fourteen race-car drivers walk into a room …”

If you’re waiting for a punchline, we’ll save you the trouble and inform you there isn’t one. But there certainly were no shortage of jokes and playful jabs to be found inside the Enercare Centre on Thursday afternoon when that many enthusiastic, sponsor-clad athletes assembled to officially kick off the Honda Indy Toronto race weekend.

Speaking of kicks, much of the conversation centred around the World Cup as the comedy came fast and furious throughout the one-hour news conference.

“The thing I find funny about this is, we’re getting grief from an American. They didn’t even qualify,” said Briton Max Chilton upon being playfully reminded by a Verizon IndyCar Series conference host that England’s World Cup hopes were dashed the other day.

Decent burn.

Chilton is one of several U.K. drivers in the series who watched in horror as the team fell to Croatia, crushing the hope that things were about to be different for the English national soccer side.

“(Wednesday), even with like two minutes left I was like, it’s coming home. We’ll be alright,” Chilton said. “But, it’s not coming home. We’ve never specified the timeline of when it’s coming home.”

Added fellow country-mate Jordan King: “I’m just about getting over it. I’ve got another day just to wipe away the tears and then I’ll be alright.”

Series veteran and 2014 Toronto Indy champion Sebastian Bourdais was asked if he’s more nervous about Sunday’s race or his home country of France competing in the World Cup final.

“I’m kind of glad the English didn’t make it,” Bourdais said. “It would have been all we would have talked about all weekend. No offence, but just kind of happy (they didn’t make it.)”

The ribbing reached a new level when Canadian driver Robert Wickens was asked about his relationship with fellow Canuck James Hinchcliffe, a childhood friend and his teammate with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“In May, James went on vacation for a little bit,” Wickens said, taking a clear shot at his pal failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 this spring.

Ouch. Imagine if they actually didn’t like each other.

MAYOR SPEAKS

Hinchcliffe gave Schmidt Peterson Motorsports its first-ever win at an oval track this past weekend at the Iowa Corn 300, which should supply the 31-year-old Oakville native with plenty of confidence heading into his hometown race, where he has put together back-to-back third-place finishes.

“Obviously it was tremendous result and a great way to kind of come into the week here,” the self-proclaimed Mayor of Hinchtown said. “It’s already the busiest week of the year for us and I think we made it a little bit busier by the result there.”

Hinchcliffe said he’s cautiously optimistic, but each week is a fresh one and past results don’t win future races.

“Not a whole lot that transfers from a 7/8th of a mile oval to Toronto, but hopefully the momentum can still be on our side,” he said.

NO CUP CONUNDRUM

Honda Indy Toronto president Jeff Atkinson insists the World Cup is not a negative. In fact, aside from hogging headlines throughout the world, Sunday morning’s much-hyped soccer final could actually lend itself nicely to the annual event at the Exhibition Place grounds, which has in recent years been tested by date changes and rainouts. As the theory goes, people might already be out of the house to watch the game and can simply keep the party going later in the day via the race turnstiles.

“In past years we had looked at the World Cup dates and we had shifted our dates accordingly for it,” Atkinson said. “But with the start times in Russia, the game starts in the morning, late morning.

“In the 416/905 especially, a lot of people wake up, day of, and decide, ‘what am I going to do?’ And we think, strategically, it actually fits well with our schedule. If anything, it compliments it.”

What won’t hurt the Indy’s ticket sales is the Canadian content in Sunday’s feature event.

“It’s a key storyline for us. Right now, if James Hinchcliffe was the only individual driver for the event, it’s basically, ‘how did James do and who won the race?’ Now, you have, ‘who won the race and who was the top Canadian?’ Right now, we’re lining up to have three Canadian drivers in the field and I think that’s just such a key storyline for the weekend. For those who are coming down who are race fans, it gives them something to cheer about.”

FINISH LINES

Zachary Claman De Melo must have been excited to get to his first Toronto race as an IndyCar driver. “It’s only a four-hour drive from Montreal, so I’m extremely happy to be here,” the young driver said during Thursday’s news conference, at which point Hinchliffe raised a fair question. “How fast were you going?” Claman De Melo’s response? “I feel like I shouldn’t say that.” … The Toronto street course features more than 2,050 steel-reinforced barriers. Blocks are 12 feet long, three feet high and weigh roughly 8,650 pounds each. There are more than 1,200 sheets of fencing used, spanning more than 14,000 feet and requiring more than 410,00 pounds of steel.

Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies