Oakville's James Hinchcliffe on front row for Indy Lights race

Drivers expect a wild ride in the first turn of Sunday’s other race at Exhibition Place.

James Hinchcliffe will start from the front row in Sunday’s Firestone Indy Lights race at the Toronto Indy but the Oakville native doesn’t think it’s much of an advantage.

“I could be first after the first turn or I could be fourth,” said the No. 2 qualifier behind pole-sitter J.K. Vernay of France.

“Everybody will be on the charge and it’s a tricky corner at the best of times,” said Hinchcliffe, who added that the pavement is often slippery at the 90-degree turn directly in front of the Princes’ Gates.

“Going through there side-by-side could be hairy.”

Vernay won the pole on his last green-flag lap with a time of one minute, 5.2989 seconds, which translates into an average speed of 96.755 miles an hour.

Hinchcliffe, who lost six laps when his battery went dead and had to be replaced, was 4/100ths of a second behind with a time of 1:05:3478 (96.683 m.p.h.).

Philip Major of Ottawa will start 12th in the 15-car field after crashing on his 17th lap.

Hinchcliffe, who’s second behind Vernay in the Indy Lights standings, acknowledged that he was disappointed, particularly as many of his family and friends were at the track to support him.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” Hinchcliffe said. “In both practice sessions, I was only in front of him by about a half a tenth (of a second). In qualifying, it was the same but it swung the other way, which is unfortunate for us.

“But it’s so tough around here; in fact, I think it’s going to be a very tough race, particularly if we have rain.”

Hinchcliffe has been competing in the sport’s “minor leagues” for five years now but has ambitions to move into the IndyCar series in 2011. “We are actively seeking sponsorship,” Hinchcliffe said. “We’re working hard.”

He shrugged his shoulders when asked about British racer Pippa Mann, who drives for the American racing team headed by retired driver Sam Schmidt.

For this race, she has sponsorship from the Great Canadian SuperStore.

“Who knows how these things happen,” he said. “It’s a mystery.”

Caitlin Johnston of Orangeville, Ont., said she’s had a smooth transition from opened-wheeled racing to stock car racing. She raced for the second time in a stock car Saturday, in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.

“Quite a few of the guys have really welcomed me into the series and given me suggestions about moving around the track,” said the 21-year-old Johnston, a champion in kart racing.

“We didn’t know what to expect coming into stock cars. There’s a lot more weight, a lot more horse power. I just have so much fun with it,” Johnston said.

While she’s raced in championship events in Formula Ford, Saturday’s race — it was a support race for Sunday’s Toronto Indy — was the biggest venue she’s been part of. She said she’s been soaking up the atmosphere.

“This is definitely one of the biggest races of my career and it’s one of those things you have to take into perspective. It’s a big weekend, and we’re here to have fun, to work well, to run well, and to have fun,” Johnston added.

Hollywood actor Greg Kinnear has been named Grand Marshal of the Toronto Indy and will give the command to start the engines for the 24th renewal of the race Sunday afternoon.

Kinnear, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in As Good As It Gets, will be joined by Canadian Jon Cassar, producer/director of the hit television series 24, who will wave the green flag as Honorary Starter.

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