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INDY NOTES: Wickens' emotional return to racetrack an inspiring scene

Injured driver Robert Wickens of Canada is photographed before leading the parade lap in a car fitted with hand controls before the 2019 Honda Indy Toronto race in Toronto, Sunday July 14, 2019.
Injured driver Robert Wickens of Canada is photographed before leading the parade lap in a car fitted with hand controls before the 2019 Honda Indy Toronto race in Toronto, Sunday July 14, 2019.
TORONTO, Ont. —

Seven carefully crafted words stirred the emotions of thousands under clear skies on Sunday afternoon in Toronto.

“Future drivers of mine, start your engines!”

Those words, spoken by Guelph, Ont., native Robert Wickens, signalled the start of the Honda Indy Toronto and capped what was certainly the most inspiring few minutes witnessed in the top North American open-wheel series in some time.

In addition to giving the commands for the 22-car field, Wickens moments earlier led the parade lap — with fiancee Karli Woods in the passenger seat — as part of the pre-race ceremonies for the NTT IndyCar Series, driving a modified Acura RSX fitted with special hand controls.

Wickens’ journey has been well-documented. The 30-year-old crashed during a race at Pocono in Long Pond, Pa., last August, sustaining myriad injuries. He is bound to a wheelchair and has been undergoing intense rehab ever since as he attempts to regain use of his legs, with a goal of one day returning to racing.

It was here in Toronto just last July where Wickens stood on the podium at his home-country track, the Indy series rookie having finished third in what was his series debut in Toronto.

On Sunday, the circumstances were far different than before, but the applause he received was no less, In fact, it was likely greater. A standing ovation from fans in the grandstands. Cheers from fellow drivers. Heartfelt support blanketed the injured driver.

And rightly so.

Wickens showed great promise throughout his rookie campaign before the crash altered his life’s path in an instant, and here, a bit more than a year later, Wickens showed what will and determination can bring. Wickens has not let his situation determine his final destination.

Here he was, back in a race car – albeit not yet racing – doing what he loves.

The “future drivers of mine” part of his race-starting commands tell you everything you need to know about Wickens’ resolve.

As inspiring as it gets, really.

HOME, SWEET HOME

The Canadian drivers in Toronto this weekend race for themselves and for their teams, but they also keep an eye out for one another as unofficial members of Team Canada.

“It’s definitely a strong, closely-knit racing community,” said Stoufville, Ont. native Dalton Kellett, who finished third in the second and final Indy Lights race on Sunday. “When one of us does well, we all celebrate.”

Belle River, Ont.’s Roman DeAngelis swept the weekend, winning both Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada races, while Red Deer, Alta.’s Parker Thompson scored third-place finishes in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada on Saturday and followed it up with a second- and fifth-place finish in the respective series on Sunday. Toronto’s Jeff Kingsley finished second in both Porsche races, while Richmond Hill, Ont.’s Michael Di Meo came third in Sunday’s Porsche race.

TAGS, HE’S IT!

Alex Tagliani will head to the prairies a happy man, having redeemed himself in the No. 18 RONA/EpiPen Chevrolet after a heartbreaking loss here last July.

Racing late Saturday night following a weather delay, the 45-year-old native of Lachanaie, Que., led for 34 of 37 laps en route to winning the Pinty’s Grand Prix of Toronto for his ninth career NASCAR Pinty’s Series victory and second on the streets of Toronto.

“After last year, we felt like we had some unfinished business,” said Tagliani, who led all 35 laps here last July before losing in overtime to Andrew Ranger.

Next up on the series schedule is a twin bill of races at Saskatoon’s Wyant Group Raceway.

FINISH LINES

The 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron CF-18 Hornets from CFB Bagotville, Que., a pre-race flyover. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves drove an Indy car dubbed the Honda Fastest Seat in Sports during the pre-race ceremonies with Olympic figure skater and fellow former Dancing With The Stars competitor Adam Rippon as his passenger in the two-seater … More than 300 Canadian Armed Forces members from across Ontario helped with the pre-race ceremony … There had been six different winners through 10 NTT IndyCar Series races heading into Sunday. Josef Newgarden (three), Simon Pagenaud (two) and Alexander Rossi (two) were the only drivers repeat winners in that stretch … Toronto marks the ninth series race on a road/street course this season. Next up is the Iowa 300 oval, won by Canadian James Hinchcliffe in 2018 … The series champion has won in Toronto in six of the past 10 seasons … Legendary Canadian driver Paul Tracy, the lone Canuck to win in Toronto (2003, 1993), was working in the NBCSN booth as a TV analyst throughout the weekend.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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