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Canadians Kellett, DeFrancesco excited to make Honda Indy Toronto debuts

TORONTO — Racecars will once again be whizzing past Toronto's scenic Princes' Gates all weekend, with the statue Winged Victory looming over Turn 1 of the Exhibition Place track.
Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport driver Devlin DeFrancesco (29) of Canada competes during an IndyCar auto race at the Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 10, 2022, in Long Beach, Calif. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ashley Landis

TORONTO — Racecars will once again be whizzing past Toronto's scenic Princes' Gates all weekend, with the statue Winged Victory looming over Turn 1 of the Exhibition Place track.

Local drivers Dalton Kellett and Devlin DeFrancesco will be making their Honda Indy Toronto debuts on Sunday after Canada's only IndyCar event was cancelled the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Kellett and DeFrancesco, who both started driving IndyCar after 2020, said they are excited to be making their hometown debuts, starting with a drive past the distinctive arched structure on the grounds' eastern side.

"The view as you're going down the pit straightaway toward the Princes' Gates, you kind of see the city," Kellett said about what he thinks is the course's most distinctive feature. "Just that image of the cars going down towards the Princes' Gates and that Turn 1 complex is really quite technical.

"'It's a really challenging corner. I think that's probably the most recognizable part of the track for us."

Added Kellett with a laugh: "Obviously, you're not really looking at it too much when you're in the car. Maybe on the pace laps."

DeFrancesco agreed that the Princes' Gates make for one of the Honda Indy's most memorable vistas, but he loves the street track's bumpy turns.

"Turn 8, Turn 9, Turn 10, Turn 11, those are the three S's at the end of the track, those seem to be the hardest corners," said DeFrancesco, referring to the section of the course that runs along the northeast side of BMO Field, between the Food Building and the Horse Palace. "I think we're going to be working hard to nail those."

The 28-year-old Kellett, from nearby Stouffville, Ont., made his IndyCar debut on July 4, 2020, at the GMR Grand Prix, missing the last Honda Indy Toronto in 2019. Kellett, who lives in Indianapolis to be closer to the headquarters of AJ Foyt Racing, said that, for him, racing in the streets of Toronto is almost on the same level as competing in the storied Indianapolis 500.

"I would say it's 1B or maybe 2A kind of thing, y'know?" said Kellett. "Indy is obviously our biggest race, our biggest international race, but for myself and our partners this is probably our most special race for the year. 

"It's going to be a big one and then for my whole career, it's definitely going to be going to be a highlight."

The 22-year-old DeFrancesco was born 15 weeks premature at midtown Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. He visited the hospital's neonatal care unit on Thursday morning, meeting with the doctors and nurses who helped him survive the first months of his life.

DeFrancesco also met with families who currently have premature babies under Sunnybrook's care and he unveiled a special racesuit and helmet emblazoned with the motto #BornFast.

"To be able to see them and to give back to a place that allowed me to even be here in the first place I think was very important," said DeFrancesco, who is also raising funds for Sunnybrook Hospital. "They're all going to be here this weekend."

Admission is free to spectators on Friday, although organizers are asking fans to donate to the Make A Wish Foundation. The first day of the weekend-long event features practice for the support races and IndyCar. The NASCAR Pinty's Series Race will also be held on Friday afternoon.

France's Simon Pagenaud is the reigning champion, having won the race in 2019. The Honda Indy Toronto is one of the oldest continuously running IndyCar Series events, dating back to 1986.

When IndyCar president Jay Frye was asked on Thursday if he could see North America's open-wheel circuit returning to Montreal, Vancouver or Edmonton — which have all previously hosted IndyCar events — Pagenaud nudged Frye in the ribs and gave him a double thumbs up.

"All great venues, all great historical events that we've had in the past, there's just a lot of different things that have to come into play to have something happen like that," said Frye. "Never say never, obviously, so we're always open to learning and understanding how things work in the future. 

"It's just really great to be back here."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2022.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press