If Toronto area native James Hinchcliffe wants his inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series victory to happen in front of his Canadian countrymen, he's gonna have to rally to do it.
Hinchcliffe, who sits fifth in the series championship going into Sunday's Honda Indy Toronto, will have to absorb a 10-spot grid penalty for the race after his Andretti Autosport team elected to change his Chevrolet engine. He did not run in the second practice session on Friday.
The good news for Hinchcliffe is that he's already had practice in dealing with the 10-spot penalty this season -- and he dealt with it quite well. At Long Beach, he and the other Chevy drivers were given 10-spot penalties after the manufacturer decided to have all of them swap motors.
That decision stemmed from Hinchcliffe's blown motor in a test session at Sonoma on Apr. 9, four days before the Long Beach weekend began. But despite starting 16th at the Beach, Hinchcliffe wound his way through the field and finished third at the checkers.
That's helping him maintain some confidence this weekend.
"Certainly [the penalty] makes it more of a challenging weekend than we wanted, but at the end of the day, it's still possible for the Go Daddy car to move forward," said Hinchcliffe, who finished 14th last year at Toronto with Newman-Haas Racing.
"Last time we got an engine penalty, we were able to come back and finished on the podium. So we may be down, but we're certainly not out."
Update on injured crewmen
As reported Friday, four crew members were involved in a pit road incident during morning practice that saw Justin Wilson slide through his pit box and hit the back of Sebastien Bourdais.
Two of those crewmen -- Dragon Racing's Chuck Homan and Raffi Aroyan -- were transported to a local hospital for evaluation. Homan has since been treated and released, while Aroyan was revealed to have sustained no injuries.
The other two crewmen involved, Dragon's Daniel Martin and Dale Coyne Racing's Michael Cole, were treated and released from the infield care center.
On Friday, Wilson explained that his car failed to go into neutral, and with cold brakes compounding the problem, he tried to slide into the inside wall in order to keep from hitting the crewmen.
"At the last second, I tried to dive into the wall to take speed off," the Texas winner said. "But those guys were there and had no idea I was coming and even diving to the wall, I still hit them."
Wilson also had to spin himself into the tire barriers later that morning in order to keep from hitting a spun-out Alex Tagliani in Turn 8.
"It was just a horrible session," said Wilson.
But the Englishman was eventually able to bounce back and claim the fourth-fastest time in Friday's practice runs.
Franchitti at the top? That's familiar
Three-time Toronto winner Dario Franchitti is aiming to keep his title hopes alive this weekend in Hogtown, and so far, he's off to a strong start.
The Scotsman, who's earned two of his T.O. triumphs (2009, 2011) over the last three years, paced Friday's practices with a lap of 60.2786 seconds around the 1.8-mile street circuit at Exhibition Place. That was enough to best rookie dark horse Simon Pagenaud (60.3904 seconds) and Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon (60.5423 seconds) on the time charts.
Along with Wilson, that made a 1-2-3-4 block at the top of the charts for Honda, which hopes to snap Chevy's mini-streak of two straight wins (Ryan Hunter Reay, Milwaukee and Iowa) in one of its bigger North American markets.
Bowtie-powered Ryan Briscoe was fifth-quickest on Friday, followed by Team Penske mates Helio Castroneves and Will Power, Mike Conway, Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato to round out the Top 10.
RHR: Toronto all about the points
Hunter-Reay comes into Toronto just three markers off of Will Power in the battle for the championship, which features the top five -- Power, RHR, Dixon, Helio Castroneves, and Hinchcliffe -- separated by a mere 30.
With six races to go in the campaign, these competitors can ill afford any trouble. Unfortunately for them, Toronto is just as much known for its rather high attrition rate as its solid street racing.
"This race is about points, because it's such a wildcard," Hunter-Reay said on Friday. "One year, you can be at the front and finishing on the podium, and the next year, you can find yourself struggling. It's a tough track to master.
"This is one of them where points can get mixed up quite a bit, so you just want to make sure you are at the front of the grid and try your best to stay out of trouble. But anyone can get in trouble."
RHR is roaring into Toronto after back-to-back victories at Milwaukee and Iowa that vaulted him into the thick of the championship chase. He contends that he can be a major threat all the way to Fontana in September.
"If we can put together the same second half of the season that we had last year, we could really make this championship fight interesting," the American said. "We certainly know that, but basically, it's session by session. Race by race. Just keep those blinkers on and do what we know how to do, and that's being a threat to win on Race Day."
All quotes were taken from INDYCAR trackside reports.