When Toronto driver Devlin DeFrancesco lines up for the Honda Indy on Sunday, he will likely give a nod or two to a private suite in the nearby stands.
That suite will hold 152 people: sponsors, friends and family, including parents Andy and Cathy, who know what it took to get the DeFrancesco to his first Honda Indy.
The young driver, a rookie on the IndyCar Series this year, visited Sunnybrook Hospital on Thursday and unveiled new livery and a new helmet he’ll use in Sunday’s race. The occasion also gave him an opportunity to thank the doctors and staff at the hospital who saved his life when he entered the world 15 weeks premature on Jan. 17, 2000, weighing less than a kilogram.
“I got to see the doctors and nurses who treated me 22 years ago, and met families that went through situations very similar to me,” said DeFrancesco, who was nursed back to health by Sunnybrook’s DAN Women and Babies Program. “To meet them all, and to share what they’ve gone through, and to meet the doctors who (saved me), I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”
DeFrancesco spent the first four months of his life in an incubator, surviving a collapsed lung, bleeding on the brain, and several other complications.
He recalls a “funny story about how I got into racing” when he was five years old.
“There was that Gillette shaving commercial on TV, and Michael Andretti starred in it … 17 years later, he’s my boss,” DeFrancesco said.
DeFrancesco says he began racing go-karts at age six, and climbed through several series en route to IndyCar. The commitment by his parents was “immense,” DeFrancesco said, adding his father, who ran a private equity fund, took time off work to drive him to kart races.
“My dad actually snuck around my mom and bought me my first two karts without her knowing it,” DeFrancesco said.
The family eventually moved from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to bring DeFrancesco closer to the motorsports world. They ultimately settled in Miami, which is where DeFrancesco now calls home.
He is third in rookie points this year, and 22nd overall, but his rookie season also has included some controversial wrecks that took out some top drivers and led to a rare, six-position penalty on the starting grid in Texas.
“I would like to have just a really solid weekend for (family and friends),” he said. “The last few races, there’s been some hiccups.”
DeFrancesco met the local media at the Honda Indy media centre Thursday along with defending race winner Simon Pagenaud, who kidded DeFrancesco about his aggressive driving.
DeFrancesco, along with fellow Canadian driver Dalton Kellett, has not driven the 11-turn Toronto course in an IndyCar race. There are 12 drivers in the 25-car field who are in the same shoes.
Kellett pointed out that, since the last Honda Indy in 2019, the cars have added aeroscreens that protect drivers from flying debris. And he said that, with two practice session and one qualifying shot, the drivers and their teams will have a quick learning curve to master the road course. “You have to qualify well, there’ll be a lot of pressure to get that right,” he said.
IndyCar points leader Marcus Ericsson recently said that it will be key for drivers at the Toronto race to qualify inside the top 10 to have a realistic chance at a podium finish.
DeFrancesco took the opportunity Thursday to poke a little fun at himself and his mishaps.
“The aeroscreen will change a couple of things, but I don’t think there will be massive changes in the race,” he said. “A car is always perfect if it is driven correctly.”
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