Kingston native James MacDonald is currently leading the 20-race competition after the first 16 dashes were held in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
“I’m really excited to come home,” MacDonald said on Thursday. “I haven’t been home in three years. When I was asked to represent Canada the first thing I thought of was P.E.I., the idea of winning it had not even crossed my mind.”
No Canadian driver has ever won the World Driving Championship on home turf. Nova Scotia native Jody Jamieson previously won the competition in 2011 and 2001 while Quebecers Sylvain and Herve Filion also won before but never while the event was hosted by Canada.
A winner of 1,686 lifetime races, the 31-year-old MacDonald finds himself one of the leading drivers at the tough Woodbine Entertainment Group circuit in Ontario. He has a lead of 26 points over second-place competitor Mika Forss of Finland in the World Driving Championship with Marcus Miller of the United States in third place, 29.5 points back at 162.5, while defending champion Dexter Dunn of New Zealand is in fourth. They are the only drivers mathematically able to catch MacDonald as a win garners 18 points with four races left to go.
MacDonald has high praise for his international cast of competitors.
“With the right horses and the right draw any of them could win this,” he said. “As for no Canadian ever winning it at home before, I don’t think it is because they weren’t good enough. A lot of these driving challenges just come down to luck.”
The CDP card kicks off at 7 p.m. with the 11-horse World Driving Championship slated for Races 3, 5, 7 and 10 at a distance of one-mile-and-a-sixteenth.
“It looks like a pretty good draw,” MacDonald said of his four drives. “I haven’t had a chance to look at real close yet but the morning line looks good and a couple drew good and a couple drew not so good.”
The races over the two half-mile track were given added distance to allow for the horses to have more time to get positioned before the first turn. Eight horses will leave on the starting gate with the 9, 10 and 11 post-position horses having to start from the second tier.
“The 11 horses on a half-mile wasn’t too bad,” MacDonald said. “The only thing is the 9 and 10 get squeezed a bit because you are completely reliant on the horse you’re trailing behind.”
The first three legs of the competition were held on larger tracks with the fourth leg over Hippodrome Trois-Rivieres in Quebec being the only one on a half-mile track before Charlottetown.
“I was a little worried about the 11-horse fields on some of the tracks but it’s been good,” MacDonald said of the unfamiliar format for the event. “Everyone has been very safe. The drivers are all professionals. It is like the ‘Who’s Who’ of International racing. We all have been cheering each other on and they are just a really good bunch of guys.”
MacDonald’s hope was to be in contention when the action switched to Charlottetown but a 26-point leads pads his chances of winning the $25,000 prize given to the winning driver.
“I’m really lucky and I’m on top, so I know the crowd is going to be on my side and willing the horses home for me,” he said. “I’m not trying to get too far ahead of myself but I know if everything goes right the place is going to be electric.”
A look at the World Driving Championship leaderboard heading into tonight’s final leg in Charlottetown.