Team Penske is the Common Theme Across Honda Indy Toronto Practices

Unlike last year, I am not in Canada for the Honda Indy Toronto this weekend. Initially those reasons as to why, were related to work, but as it turns out I needed to be home for a family situation. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. The Verizon IndyCar Series, the work I am privileged to do while covering race weekends on the ground, and everyone I’ve met because of it has made the series a second home for me, and a family in many ways. But nothing can compare to actual family, the unconditional support and love that bonds you all together, especially in trying times. So I’m glad to be here in Cleveland, in my role as a member of this family.

Thankfully, the situation yields a fair amount of down time today and I am looking forward to talking to you guys via written word today! I hope to hear back from you via social media or email with your own thoughts! Now, let’s get into the good stuff!

Yesterday kicked off the first day of the three-day weekend in Toronto, Ontario – the only international grounds that the Verizon IndyCar Series competes on, currently.

Helio Castroneves led the charge with a best lap of 1:01.1211. The Team Penske driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Chevy is hot off his win at Iowa Speedway earlier this week and runs second in the Championship points race, trailing Scott Dixon by 8 points. Dixon, in the No. 9 NTT Data Ganassi Honda was the fastest for his engine manufacturer in the morning run. He was only .58 of a second behind Castroneves, giving him the P4 slot overall.

Dixon moved up to P3 in the afternoon session, and held on to the fastest Honda bragging rights with a 1:00.6253 lap. While impressive, it was not enough to catch the reigning champ, Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud, driving the No. 1 DXC Technology Chevy, topped the second practice of the weekend with a lap of 1:00.2573. It had to feel good to be the fastest on track in Toronto, seeing as he has yet to grab a pole position in Hogtown. He is winless here as well, but if it’s one thing that keeps this Frenchman fighting for a successful weekend, it’s obstacles that he has yet to conquer,

“Here it’s very low grip; you slide around in the corners. The tarmac changes throughout the corner and it’s giving you a great challenge. I really enjoy that, I really do. Every corner’s different and you need to change your driving corner to corner. It’s not boring, I can tell you that.”

It seems that he is embracing those difficulties and learning how to truly master the combination of challenges that Toronto presents, because he maintained his position at the top of the boards in this morning’s practice, the third one of the weekend and final track time prior to qualifying. Pagenaud bested his previous session time by flying around the 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary street circuit in under a minute! To be precise, the lap lasted 59.7864 seconds. The qualifying lap record (with the new circuit configuration) was set by Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevy) last year with a 59.7747 second lap.

Pagenaud’s speed wasn’t the only impressive thing about the third Toronto IndyCar practice though. His Team Penske teammates Castroneves, Power and Josef Newgarden (No. 2 DeVilbiss Chevy) filled out the Top 4, and while that’s still an accomplishment, it’s not all that surprising. However, the times of the rest of field were, well, for lack of a more eloquent way of saying this… kind of like whoa.

The Top 18 cars in the 21-car field were separated by less than a second starting with Pagenaud’s top lap of 59:7864 lap and back to P18 Charlie Kimball’s (No. 83 Novo Nordisk/Diabetes of Canada Ganassi Honda) best time of 1:00.7340 lap! Less than a second you guys. 18 cars. I mean, yeah.

And appropriately, the top half of those cars were all within half a second, with hometown kid James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow SPM Honda running a 1:00.2390 lap, good enough for P9.

The quickest Honda of the weekend practices was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who found his speed in the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda in this morning’s session. Obviously with the Honda branding of this contest, the manufacturer would like to see one of their cars in victory lane tomorrow, and Hunter-Reay is looking for his first win since Pocono Raceway in 2015. Castroneves ended his 3 year-wait last weekend, and ‘RHR’ is hoping to see that same luck happen for him.

Speaking of Team Penske, even though they have shown an undeniable dominance in practices, and that will likely continue through qualifying, the race itself is a different story.

Tire degradation, track conditions, potential showers, and the unpredictable way that yellows might fall will play into the results of the 2017 Honda Indy Toronto. Last year, the results were determined nearly entirely by the falling of one yellow flag when Will Power found himself in the pits alone. That timing won him the race. It’s likely that those outside factors will determine the results of this year’s competition as well.

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Photo credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar