As the only regular stop north of the United States border, the Honda Indy Toronto has become one of the largest events on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar. While the challenges the streets of Exhibition Place are fascinating by themselves, it’s success is due in large part to the staff behind the scenes.
Event President Jeff Atkinson and his group are always looking for ways to make the weekend better, whether by adding another series to the roster of competition or improving the fan zone. Atkinson says it is a task that keeps him busy, but one that he is enjoys each year.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” he told POPULAR SPEED recently. “There are a lot of agencies that you work with, in terms of businesses. You deal with a lot of layers, visions. When you come to put the event together, it’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and when you think each year, you reshape and rebuild, and it’s never the same. It’s always different.
“One of the big features that we added this year is to try and improve our Thunder Alley layout. We’ve added the Honda Speed Zone, and that includes the NHL Centennial Fan Arena. This is a great new activity that our fans are going to get to enjoy when they attend the race over the weekend. It’s just this incredible display that will be at the event in support of the Centennial for the NHL.”
While continuing to make the weekend more enjoyable, he says another focus has been making sure it’s easily accessible. With Exhibition Place easily reachable via public transit, the race is at a prime location in Ontario’s capital city. The other key is making the event affordable for the average race fan.
“The 12 and under free program allows a family of four to attend for under a $100,” Atkinson mentioned. “We have our grandstands tickets which you can purchase for individual days; you don’t have to commit to the entire weekend. Obviously, some of our most loyal fans and consumers do as they’ll be here all three days and we love them for that fact. But to consumers that are coming for the first time, they can either commit to a general admission pass for the day or weekend or a grandstand ticket. There’s just a lot of options, whether you want to jump into a grandstand seat or just want to walk around for the day. If you’re just walking around, there’s something to see and do for everyone.”
Each yea with the event, the marketing also grows, with programs launched to entice the younger crowd. This year, they started the “Rookie Racers Club,” which offers a wide arrange of perks for fans aged five to 12.
“We talked to a bunch of our partners,” Atkinson said. “They know our vision is to grow the event in the community, especially at the family level. The rookie racer does what we want in terms of offering something to those who may be coming down to the event for the first, second, or hopefully the third time, but actually giving them something to be proud of and celebrate throughout the weekend.
“It’s things like the Great Canadian Combo, which we’re here to talk about today. So that is a package that allows you to get a poutine on site, you get a Tim’s Card – we’re just making it easy for people to get down to our event for the weekend.”
Of course, once you’re down at the event, there’s entertainment at every corner with the Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pirelli World Challenge, MAZDA MX-5 Global Cup and NASCAR Pinty’s Series racing alongside the IndyCars throughout the weekend.
“We think having the NASCAR Pinty’s Series is a great win for the event,” Atkinson said. “For the event, the NASCAR Pinty’s Series is our double-feature for the weekend. So for the double-feature, to have both NASCAR and IndyCar, it completes our weekend. So now we have a big qualifying event with the NASCAR Pinty’s Series on Friday, their feature race on the Saturday with IndyCar qualifying, and then the IndyCar race on Sunday. So basically 8 am to 6 pm, we have a complete schedule – and something to see and do for everyone, whether you like open-wheel racing or stock car racing or sports car racing, we have something for you.”
As Canada celebrates their 150th birthday, the Honda Indy Toronto has become a staple for many fans to check out during the summer months in hopes of cheering hometown driver James Hinchcliffe to victory lane. If he can accomplish the feat this year, Atkinson said it would be a great accomplishment for not only Hinchcliffe and his family, but also a home run for Canada’s party.
“The thing with James and his team that puts together his car on a weekly basis is we know they’re competitive in every race,” he added. “He was in Long Beach this year and won, which is one of the big races on the circuit. He said it was one of his crown jewels on the core bucket list – Toronto, Indianapolis and Long Beach. So now Toronto and Indy is very much the focus.”
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