The Indianapolis 500 is a landmark in American auto racing. In 2015, the biggest story surrounding the event was James Hinchcliffe‘s near fatal accident in practice. With the 2016 Indianapolis 500 only one week away, much of the attention has been on Hinchcliffe and his return to the 500 after the horrific accident. Hinchcliffe has been Canada’s biggest star in IndyCar (or previously CART) since his own hero Greg Moore‘s untimely demise in 1999. As we approach the Indianapolis 500 on May 29th, we look back on the history of the race and how far the sport has come. With this in mind, here are some of Canada’s most notable competitors in the Indianapolis 500:
Hinchcliffe made his Indy 500 debut in 2011 with Newman/Haas Racing, a race where fellow Canadian Alex Tagliani started from pole position. The young driver from Oakville, Ontario impressed in his first attempt at the prestigious race. Starting 13th and running well early on, the “Mayor of Hinchtown” would eventually crash out of contention and finish 29th. From Newman/Haas, he moved to Andretti Autosport and the bright green #27 GoDaddy.com car with which he would become so closely associated. His use of 27 with Andretti Autosport was notable, as this number has been shared amongst many notable Canadian drivers, including former Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve and his father Gilles Villeneuve. Hinchcliffe would impress in qualifying for the 500 in his time with Andretti, starting 2nd in both 2012 and 2014. However, his 6th place finish in the 2012 race would prove to be his best to date, as he finished below 20th in the following 2 years. In 2015, he was badly injured in a horrific accident in practice, keeping Hinchcliffe from making his 5th attempt at the race with his new team, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. That 5th attempt should take place next weekend.
From Scarborough, Ontario, Paul Tracy is one of Canada’s premier racing talents. Tracy has had a long and varied career in racing, with experience in IndyCar, Champ Car/CART, NASCAR, Sports car racing, and even a testing run with the Benetton Formula One team. Tracy is probably best known for his time driving with the Player’s/Forsythe team that fielded other Canadian drivers such as Greg Moore, Alex Tagliani, and Patrick Carpentier. In 2003, Tracy won the Champ Car championship with the team, his sole title after having driven in the series since 1991. This CART experience is relevant as his closest chance at winning the Indianapolis 500 came in 2002, when he passed Helio Castroneves after an accident on the final lap and was deemed to have finish second. After the race, Tracy said: “I passed him on the outside, and somebody said it was under yellow, but the green was still up. In my eyes, I saw the green, so we’re going to protest and see what happens“. It is still widely believed that Tracy had the 500 victory taken from him, with team owner Barry Green even saying that IRL officials would not allow a CART driver to win the Indy 500 while the two series were duelling. It would prove to be Tracy’s strongest finish at the 500 as he has historically struggled on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Hailing from Toronto, Ontario, Scott Goodyear had a successful career in both CART and IndyCar from 1987 to 2001. With multiple wins in both series, Goodyear proves to be one of the more successful Canadian drivers in both series, although he is admittedly a less recognizable name than Greg Moore or Paul Tracy. Goodyear is best known for his prowess in the Indianapolis 500. Despite having never won the legendary race, he has come very close to winning it three times. Goodyear has finished second in the Indianapolis 500 twice, with one of those being an historically close finish behind winner Al Unser Jr. in 1992. However this race was the most fair fight that Goodyear would face in the end of the 500, as his other close calls were steeped in controversy and confusion. Unfortunately for Goodyear, due to the nature of the Indy 500, these finishes have all been so notable that they have been revisited and reanalyzed for years (as they are right now). One of these finishes was due to pace car confusion that left much of the field confused and took any chance of contention away from Goodyear, but it still left Goodyear with an impressive 2nd place finish. However, another did not even leave him with the strong finish. An ignored black flag left him leading the field to the chequered flag, but being penalized. The winner of that race, the 1995 Indianapolis 500, is the final driver on this list.
The son of Formula 1 racing legend Gilles Villeneuve, Jacques Villeneuve is arguably the most famous Canadian driver in the history of motorsports. Hailing from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec, Jacques Villeneuve is the only Canadian to have ever won the Indianapolis 500. As mentioned in the previous section, that win was taken away from fellow Canadian Scott Goodyear. It came in a Player’s/Forsythe car, like Paul Tracy and Greg Moore, and in car number 27, like James Hinchcliffe and Gilles Villeneuve. Basically, Jacques Villeneuve’s 1995 Indianapolis win was an all-Canadian showcase that would go down in the country’s sporting history. This win was impressive not only in the historic element for Canadian motorsports, but because Villeneuve had been given a penalty that dropped him to the back of the pack early in the race. Also notable was that it was only the young Villeneuve’s second attempt at the Indy 500, with his first being in 1994 which saw him finishing 2nd. Villeneuve kept that 2nd and 1st record until 2014, when he made his return to the Indianapolis 500, finishing 14th with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. After the 1995 win, Villeneuve went on to win the CART championship, directly leading to his signing with the Williams Formula 1 team. Villeneuve continued to make Canadian motorsports history in Formula 1, becoming the country’s only World Champion in 1997. With the popularity of James Hinchcliffe and the attention that he is bringing to motorsports in Canada, it is only a matter of time before another Canadian joins Jacques Villeneuve’s ranks at the top of the racing world.