Hunter-Reay took the checkered flag at the Honda Indy Toronto last year when just one race was more than enough. This year's doubleheader means he'll have to survive an entire weekend in the canyon.
"Getting around this track feels like you've got your hair on fire the whole time," he said. "It's not smooth, it's not precise, you're just absolutely standing on it and it does feel like you're driving like your hair's on fire."
Hunter-Reay dominated the 85-lap, 1.75-mile race at Exhibition Place last year en route to eventually winning the IndyCar series championship. The 32-year-old American enters Saturday and Sunday's races 23 points back of Brazil's Helio Castroneves for the overall lead in the standings.
A visit to Toronto will also help Hunter-Reay forget Sunday's race at Pocono, where he was running strong until Japan's Takuma Sato ran into him in pit lane. Hunter-Reay, who injured his thumb in the accident, is hoping to rebound with a strong qualifying performance that he calls critical to finishing Toronto intact.
"The track breeds tight, close-quarters racing and with that sometimes comes contact and the tempers flare and people get impatient," said the Andretti Autosport driver. "So staying out front is usually the best bet."
Drivers have already experienced one doubleheader this season at another street track. Hunter-Reay finished second in Race 1 at Detroit in June, but was 18th in the Race 2 after he clipped a curb and went into a wall.
"Definitely unfortunate, such a simple mistake," he said. "That said, street course situation I was talking to you about where it's such a fine line between hero and zero, man, you're always dancing on that edge asking for every little inch of the racetrack."
New Zealand's Scott Dixon had better luck in Detroit's doubleheader. He finished fourth in both races, which he called "complete chaos." In the first race Dixon was taken out early and had to make his way back up through the field. In the second race, he struggled with bad tires.
Dixon won in Pocono on Sunday, but he's never won in Toronto.
"I guess some circuits you can have a fast car and maybe not get the strategy right and still win, whereas here you need to get everything right," said Dixon.
The busy weekend starts with qualifying Friday for Race 1. On Saturday, drivers go through qualifying for Race 2 a few hours prior to the opening race. It all ends with Sunday's race, after which Dixon expects he'll need time to recover.
A typical race leaves drivers exhausted, bruised and with an adrenalin rush that makes sleep difficult. A doubleheader demands drivers do it all over again the next day.
"It's twice as hard, I think that's the easiest way of looking at it," said Dixon. "It's physically demanding, mentally demanding, preparing yourself in the mindset to know that you've got to do it again, trying to get sleep, it's definitely an added dimension, that's for sure."
If that wasn't enough, there's one more catch.
Saturday's race will feature IndyCar's first standing start since 2008. The start, which is used by Formula One, features cars beginning the race from a stationary position on the grid. Sunday's race will revert to the normal rolling starts.
Sato, one of the few drivers on the grid with F1 experience and practical knowledge of the standing start, said he isn't concerned about other drivers when Race 1 begins. But the cars themselves, and a narrow Turn 1, could be a problem.
"It's all about reaction obviously," he said. "The reaction, it doesn't matter with the standing start or the rolling start. These guys have fantastic reaction for the restart all the time. So ... maybe some of the cars will suffer too much wheel spin, or some cars will struggle with bogging down, maybe some cars will stall (its) engine."
The unique start is meant to add another reason for fans to return to an event that has been in recovery ever since it went on a one-year hiatus in 2008. It's too soon to know whether the doubleheader format helps or hurts ticket sales, and Hunter-Reay said he'll wait for fan reaction before coming to his own verdict.
Dixon pointed out the possibility that the second race might not be as dramatic for fans.
"I think for me, I actually enjoy them," said Dixon. "I think if you're there, you might as well race. I'm not sure whether it takes away from the big Sunday attraction of being the main race ... I think there's mixed feelings about it but for me just for racing and loving to race, yeah I love having multiple races on a weekend."
Practically, the pair of races also offers plenty of points for drivers to move up a packed leaderboard.
Castroneves, who has never won in Toronto, and fourth-place Dixon are separated by just 65 points. James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., who has the most victories of any driver so far with three, is also in the mix in fifth place.
"It really is a big deal. There's so many points on the board," said Hunter-Reay. "You've got to be good here, you've got to be good in Houston with the double as well. So it really puts an emphasis on Toronto as an event. ... You've got to be on your game. We're looking to do that."
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