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Championship leader Scott Dixon paces Honda Indy Toronto practice

by Mike Haag | Posted on Friday, July 13th, 2018

Courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series

TORONTO – Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Scott Dixon paced Friday’s practice for the Honda Indy Toronto, leading 13 drivers who circulated the 1.786-mile temporary street course in less than a minute.

Scott Dixon sails into Turn 6 during practice for the Honda Indy Toronto — Photo by: Chris Owens

Driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Dixon’s quick lap was 59.0751 seconds (108.838 mph) during the second 45-minute session and stood as best for the day from either of the two practices. Dixon, who won both Toronto races on a doubleheader weekend in 2013, has a 33-point lead over Josef Newgarden entering competition this weekend as he chases his fifth series title.

HONDA INDY TORONTO: Practice 1 resultsPractice 2 resultsCombined practice results

“The PNC Bank car rolled off really fast off the truck and I expect the competition to continue to be really tough,” said Dixon, who was nearly a half-second better than the field and complimented racetrack officials for repaving some rougher portions of the circuit prior to this weekend. “We put a good lap together on the red Firestone (alternate) tires today, but I expect a lot more drivers to do that tomorrow for qualifying, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens here in Toronto for the pole.”

Honda-powered drivers nailed down the top five spots in the second practice after securing the first six positions in the opening practice also led by Dixon. Takuma Sato was second in the later session with a lap of 59.5117 seconds in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda, with Marco Andretti third at 59.5277 in the No. 98 Oberto Circle K/Curb Honda.

“I think it was a very positive day,” Sato said. “The car works pretty well really out of the box. The philosophy took over from last year’s generic (team) setup and obviously we built on it for the 2018 kit based on the reduction of aero.

“In Practice 2, it was much more to my liking and the lap times are very close, but it’s nice to be ahead.”

Graham Rahal, Sato’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate in the No. 15 Rousseau Honda, was fourth at 59.5308 seconds, with Alexander Rossi fifth in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda (59.5846).

Spencer Pigot, fresh off a career-best second-place finish last week at Iowa Speedway, was the top Chevrolet driver in practice. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver circled the streets of Exhibition Place in 59.6350 seconds in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet.

Newgarden, the defending Toronto race winner and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, was seventh overall at 59.6383 seconds in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

A third practice takes place starting at 9:50 a.m. ET Saturday, ahead of Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying at 1:55 p.m. Both Saturday sessions stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Qualifying also airs on a same-day delay at 5 p.m. on NBCSN.

The Honda Indy Toronto, the 12th of 17 races this season, airs live at 3 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Schedule news: County board to vote on Laguna Seca, Detroit submits extension proposal

INDYCAR announced Friday that it has reached an agreement with WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to bring the Verizon IndyCar Series to the permanent road course near Monterey, California, in 2019 at a date to be announced.

The agreement is subject to approval by Monterey County’s Board of Supervisors, which is set to vote on the agenda item Tuesday. Indy cars raced at Laguna Seca annually from 1983-2004.

In other venue news, organizers of the Detroit Grand Prix announced that they have submitted a proposal to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to continue hosting races on Belle Isle Park for three more years with a two-year extension option.

Key elements of the Detroit GP proposal include a 50 percent increase in the annual fee to host the race on the island to $300,000, along with yearly contributions of $50,000 to the Michigan DNR for targeted island improvement initiatives and $35,000 for projects and programming in the paddock area. Track officials will also reduce total time on the island to 62 days in 2019, a decrease of 12 days from 2017.

There have been 25 Indy car races on Belle Isle, starting in 1992 and most recently every year since 2012. The Verizon IndyCar Series has conducted doubleheader race weekends on the temporary street course annually since 2013.

‘What They’re Saying’ from Honda Indy Toronto practice

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was a long day, for sure. I think we made really good progress. The No. 1 Hitachi Chevy is going forward, which is a good thing; we’re finding some speed from Session 1 to Session 2. We just need to make a similar jump tomorrow. I think if we can do the same thing, we should be sitting pretty good for qualifying. It’s a tough track. It’s very fast, much quicker than it was last year at this time in the weekend. We just have to stay on top of it and keep moving forward, but I’m proud of our effort and I think we have a good chance to capitalize here this weekend.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I think we went through a lot of stuff and managed to test a lot of things, so I think it was a positive day. Practice 1 was pretty good. I finished P9. Second practice, unfortunately, my (fast) lap was under red flag or we would have been 15th, but anyway, I still have some work to do. I think if we find a couple tenths, we’re going to be in the game. It’s such a cool place to drive. I’m looking forward to qualifying and the race.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “Today was OK. Obviously, there’s a lot to learn coming to a street circuit with a new car. They’ve done some paving work to the track, which is another curveball to throw us, but the Arrow Electronics team did a solid job. We didn’t get the best run on reds (Firestone alternate tires), and we had a problem with my seatbelt on my fast lap. We’ll take a look at the data we got today and talk it over with Robbie (Robert Wickens) and the No. 6 guys and make sure we can put on a good performance tomorrow for the hometown crowd.” 

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “It feels good to be here in Toronto – the fans have been great. Earlier today, we had the autograph session and there were so many people from Guelph; it’s been amazing to have all the support. Practice didn’t go super well for us. The Lucas Oil crew and I definitely have some work to do overnight.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “A big shout out to the people here who look after the track. They’ve worked really hard and Turn 1 alone is going to create a lot of great racing. There are a lot of great updates. The PNC Bank car rolled off really fast off the truck and I expect the competition to continue to be really tough. We put a good lap together on the red Firestone (alternate) tires today, but I expect a lot more drivers to do that tomorrow for qualifying, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens here in Toronto for the pole.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I’m happy with the way we unloaded with the NTT DATA car. We have speed and I’m excited about this weekend, especially after how we performed on the last street races in Detroit. The track is a lot smoother with the repaving, which is nice. I think the biggest thing we need to work on is getting the car to handle over the bumps out there.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We didn’t get a very good run on reds (Firestone alternate tires). Unfortunately, I scraped the wall and bent a tow link, so had to change that, and then kind of ran out of time. But we’re in a good window apart from (Scott) Dixon. He’s just got the whole field covered by a mile, but I think the No. 12 Verizon Chevy is right there in that front group.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It was a good day for us. It didn’t help that I got a 10-minute penalty at the end because the track always gets better and we had to put our (Firestone alternate) tires on a little early, but I’m happy with the car. Obviously, I would like to be a little bit further up on the grid, but we haven’t had such a smooth day in a while as far as the first day goes. If we make the right changes for tomorrow, I think we’ll be pretty good.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Rousseau Honda): “P2 and 4 in both sessions. Swapped positions, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. You know, I think we put a good product on the track right off the trailer and (I’m) proud of everybody for working hard and making it happen with the No. 15 Rousseau Honda. So, you know, tonight, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Let’s go out and try to find a little bit more. I mean, I’m fourth and I’m less than two-hundredths off Takuma (Sato) in seconds, so it’s going to just be a typical INDYCAR qualifying session.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team Mouser/Molex Honda): “I think the Mouser Electronics/Molex car is pretty decent, we just can’t get it to brake properly and that unfortunately is killing us. I can’t get a clue what it’s going to do, when it’s going to do it and why it’s happening, so that is both frustrating and disappointing. We’ll just sit down this afternoon and tonight, go over all the data and see if we can find a reason for the problem.”   

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “It’s great to be here at the Honda Indy Toronto and to be representing Paysafe in front of all their guests that will be here over the weekend. Unfortunately, this track isn’t easy and we struggled today in practice. We’ll keep working at it for tomorrow and hopefully we can find more speed for qualifying.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “I am enjoying my time in Toronto. The circuit is quite tricky and it takes some time to learn all of the little characteristics. I feel much more comfortable in the car now than I did during this morning’s session and I feel we are going in a good direction. I do like the street circuits and the challenges they present, but it’s still difficult when the sessions are only 45 minutes. I’m looking forward to sitting down with the engineers to see where we can continue to improve tomorrow.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): “We finished the day strong, which is always nice. We found a few things with the car that I really liked during this afternoon’s practice. Mainly front grip, I am always asking for more. I thought our pace on reds (Firestone alternate tires) was really good as well, which was also encouraging. We were able to close the gap to a lot of the other guys. Overall, it was a good first day and the Preferred Freezer Services car is handling really well. Hopefully, we can keep it like that tomorrow in qualifying.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’ll say the No. 22 DXC Technology Chevy was pretty good. I think we made quite a bit of improvement on the street course setup. It’s super tight here and it’s a blast to drive around the streets of Toronto. We need to make some improvements to try to be a little closer to (Scott) Dixon. He seems really strong, but I think we’re right in the mix. It’s just super competitive right now. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow.” (About keys to a successful qualifying session): “Fuel balance of the car, trying to find the little bits and pieces will be really important for qualifying. The little details come down to that, to extract five-hundredths of seconds in each corner. Then at the end of the lap it adds up so just working on details tonight.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Novo Nordisk Chevrolet): “I’m pretty happy with this afternoon’s practice session. We definitely made progress from this morning’s session. We have a few balance challenges left to address for tomorrow, but I feel pretty confident that we can learn on the No. 23 car side of things from looking at Max’s (Chilton) data and watching some on-track videos. We didn’t maximize the alternate tire run very well, and even toward the end of that last session, the track was continuing to grip up. I think both the No. 23 and No. 59 cars will take a step forward tomorrow.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “I feel a little behind the ball learning right now. This is definitely the toughest track I’ve come to in an Indy car, just trying to figure out the track and the balance of the car. We have a lot of work to do tonight – luckily, I have three really good teammates to lean on. As this year has kind of been, we get ahead in some places, then we come to someplace new and it’s like starting all over again. We just need to figure out what we need to do to go faster tomorrow and then make it happen.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “It was generally a pretty good day for the NAPA team. There are a lot of cars pretty much on the same lap time and then one car that is a step ahead of all of us. We’ve got to put our heads together and figure out what it is, but generally, I think the performance has been good. We just need to make a good couple of changes overnight, and hopefully, close the gap.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We had quite an interesting second practice today – we went out on (Firestone alternate tires) reds and then the red flag came out, so we never really got a new good run on new reds. All that considered, going P8 on our third outing on the red tires is not bad. We’ll put our heads together as a team – it looks like the cars are quick. Hopefully we’ll go a lot faster tomorrow.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “I think it was a very positive day. The car works pretty well really out of the box. The philosophy took over from last year’s generic RLL setup, and obviously, we built on it for the 2018 kit based on the reduction of aero. I feel positive. There was grip right away. The Firestone tire is very similar to last year. The compound might be a bit different, but it felt the same for me. I had good grip and it seems like the working range is a bit wider. The track change that Toronto has made is a significant difference. The main straight is a lot less bumpy and very comfortable for the drivers. It’s all safer because there is less bottoming and less locking. It’s an impressive job that they’ve done. The entire lap, I was really happy from Practice 1 to Practice 2. In Practice 2, it was much more to my liking and the lap times are very close. But it’s nice to be ahead.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “The weekend has started off better for us than in Detroit. I was on pace with the field early. In the first session, I learned the track and throughout both sessions; I became pretty comfortable. In the second session, we were able to run on the Firestone red (alternate) tires and get a good read. We also did some setup changes and tried some new things. The car is handling really well and I am confident we have found a good race setup. Now, we will prepare for qualifying and look to get everything we can out of that session.” 

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “It was a challenging day here in Toronto, but I feel confident at this track. I love this circuit and I’ve been quick here before, but we’re just trying to work out the setup as a new team. We went slightly different ways in terms of setup on both cars in that last session, so we’ll come together tonight to see what worked and what didn’t to make the cars better for practice and qualifying tomorrow. I enjoy street circuits, so hopefully we can have a good weekend with good results for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet.”

CONOR DALY (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “I’m super happy with today. We have to look and see what the other Chevys are doing out there, and compared to them, we’re not bad for only having one day in the car. We got a great run on reds (Firestone alternate tires), but had a little traffic on our run, which is a shame. We’re making the steps we want to make and we’re working through our setup changes, which is great because that’s the goal of the weekend. It’s always nice to work with the Team Chevy guys again, they’re awesome. Obviously, I’m a passionate American man, so to have a Chevy powerplant behind us is always nice.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Oberto Circle K / Curb Honda): “It was a good first day. We still need to find that four-and-a-half tenths to (Scott) Dixon, he’s got that over all of us right now. We need to be careful, though, that chasing that doesn’t detune us elsewhere. Right now, the Oberto Circle K car is, I think, a P2 car – we just need to find that gap to P1.”

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.