French Drivers Rise to the Top in Final Toronto Practice; Dixon in Dark Horse Mode

The third and final practice session on the streets of Toronto this morning yielded the fastest times of the race weekend. The field of 22 is getting a grip on the new track layout, literally and figuratively. The sand blasting of Turns 1 and 9 overnight has seemed to do what was intended, give the cars a better consistent grip around those corners and make set up of the cars a bit easier. Though, I wouldn’t use the term easier to describe the weekend itself. Multiple IndyCar drivers have ended up in the run-offs or even into the retaining walls themselves while feeling out the track and finding new race lines.

The track adaptations, the cooler weather, increased familiarity… all possible reasons why the most recent practice was less eventful than the first two. The real test will come this afternoon when the field is divided up and take part in a 3-round qualifying sesion to determine the Verizon P1 Award winner for Honda Indy Toronto 2016.

16C_3062-1Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut Chevy for KVSH Racing led the practice on Saturday AM as well as Friday’s morning session. He has won pole in Toronto four times (2004, 2005, 2007, and 2014 Race 1) and won here twice (2004, 2014). His high point of this season was a win in Detroit at the Belle Isle doubleheader. He came out victorious in Race 1 and looks to jump back up on the podium tomorrow if he can get a strong start, stay out of traffic and maintain momentum throughout the race, something that the No. 11 crew has struggled with recently.

Points leader and resident “it” driver of the current Verizon IndyCar Series season, Simon Pagenaud, jumped up to P2 Saturday morning, nipping at the heels of his fellow Frenchman, Bourdais. The driver of the white-and-blue No. 22 PPG Chevy for Team Penske was the fastest overall yesterday and while he has yet to earn a pole or a victory in Toronto, he has won earned 5 poles this season with the most recent being last weekend in Iowa and has also achieved 3 wins. He is also one of, if not the only, driver to say that he liked the changes made to the track this year. He seems to thrive in change and challenges, so I assume you will see him rise up in the qualifying rounds Saturday afternoon.

Another Team Penske pilot, Will Power, has a pair of poles and a pair of wins in Toronto. He is the defending pole sitter having won it last year as well as 2011. He has yet to win from pole though, as his wins came in 2007 and 2010. He ran 3rd fastest overall in Friday practices as well as Saturday morning.

Power’s teammate Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Pennzoil Chevy, Team Penske) is winless on these streets but has led the field to green twice. In 2000, he led the field because he won pole (a feat that he joked about yesterday, saying that even though it was 16 years ago, he still remembers it well so his memory is still sharp), and more recently he led the field to green in Toronto based on entrant points for Race 2 due to weather conditions making qualifying impossible. Castroneves looks to start his 322nd IndyCar race on Sunday in Toronto. 

16C_2541-1The four drivers mentioned above all ran track times under 1:01 in Practice 3 and we hope to see those times get even faster in qualifying. I doubt we will see a track record broken – as it is currently held by Gil de Ferran with a time of 0:57.143 in 1999.

Scott Dixon rounded out the Top 5 fastest drivers this morning, and he’s no stranger to ranking high in Toronto. The driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy clinched the pole for Race 2 in 2013 and went on to win that race as well. He also saw the checkered flag fly first in the first race of that same weekend to dominate the first doubleheader in Toronto. That was the year that he started one of his famous second-half-of-the-season runs with the Toronto wins as number 2 and 3 in a row, starting the streak in Pocono the weekend prior. He went on to win Race 1 in Houston and then claim the IndyCar Championship for the third time in his career. He’s a beast and currently fourth in points, so keep an eye on him this weekend. The No. 9 crew has kept it clean, lying relatively low in Toronto… and that’s Dixon’s favorite time to attack.

Verizon IndyCar Series track times for the Honda Indy Toronto:

Friday, July 15:
Practice #1 – 10:00 – 10:45 a.m. ET
Practice #2 – 2:30 – 3:15 p.m. ET

Saturday, July 16:
Practice #3 – 9:45 – 10:30 a.m. ET
Quals – 1:30 – 2:45 p.m. ET

Sunday, July 17:
Warm Up – 10:30 – 11:00 a.m. ET
Honda Indy Toronto Race – 2:30 – 5:30 p.m. E.T.

The Honda Indy Toronto qualifying will be broadcast live on NBCSN and the race will be broadcast live on CNBC. All practice sessions will be livestreamed via IndyCar. All links to livestream, plus information on radio coverage is available here

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Photos by Chris Owens, property of IndyCar

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