Home » FEATURE STORY, INDYCAR

Pagenaud Hoping Luck Returns In Toronto

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 15 2017

Simon Pagenaud is hoping his luck turns at Toronto this weekend. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Simon Pagenaud admits that while his racing luck has not been all that good at the Honda Indy Toronto, the downtown dining in Canada’s largest city is simply magnifique.

“I had French food last night, so that was nice,” said Pagenaud, a native of Montmorillon, France, at the close of Friday’s two practices. The reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, Pagenaud turned the quickest lap of the day during the afternoon’s 45-minute session on the streets of Exhibition Place. Pagenaud toured the 1.786-mile/11-turn temporary circuit in 1 minute, 0.2573-seconds/106.702 mph to position the No. 1 DXC TechnologyTeam Penske Chevrolet as a pole contender.

In eight previous Toronto races, Pagenaud never has qualified better than second nor finished better than fourth. The 33-year-old aims to improve in both areas in this weekend’s 33rd Indy car race at Toronto since 1986.

“This track has been funny to me,” Pagenaud said.”It’s been interesting; we’ve never had much luck here with strategies throughout the years, since 2012. Hopefully it’s not a common trend because I’m hoping that this year is going to be a good one. But we’ve always been very competitive and Toronto always has a twist in strategy and on the race and whatever happens. That’s probably due to the grip changes throughout the corners that makes our life very difficult. We’ll see.

This track is so much fun to drive on because it’s different to other tracks. Here it’s very low grip; you slide around in the corners. The tarmac changes (from asphalt to concrete) 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.”

Teammate Will Power was second-fastest at 1:00.4844/106.302 mph. The 2016 Honda Indy Toronto winner is the active driver with the most Toronto victories (three). But like Pagenaud, Power said getting a read on the ever-changing circuit makes it challenging.

“It’s a tough track to get the balance right,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “The grip levels are so difficult all the way around. You’ve got some bumpy areas with no grip and bumpy areas with grip, then completely smooth areas. Turn 9 goes from a lot of grip to absolutely nothing. It’s something else. Very tough to get it all right.”

Scott Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2017 point-leader after 11 races, was third with a lap of 1:00.6253/106.055 mph in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. “We still have some work to do, but I’m pleased with the start overall,” Dixon said. “It’s still going to take a bit more to get to where the Penske cars are, but I’m confident in the team and the decisions we’ll make heading into Practice 3 and qualifying tomorrow.”

Graham Rahal was fourth overall after a lap at 1:00.6388/106.031 mph in the No. 15 Rousseau Metal Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

“We started right where we left off in Detroit and that setup seems to carry over pretty good,” said Rahal, who swept the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit doubleheader on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in early June.  “We have a little bit of stuff to work on overnight to improve.  We actually had a lap going that was significantly better than what ended up being our fastest but I had to lift for someone in the runoff in Turn 8.  I feel decent with where we are right now.  I would like to improve overnight to be a little more confident but we’re headed in the right direction.”

Helio Castroneves, eight points behind Dixon after winning the Iowa Corn 300 last Sunday, ranked fifth on the time sheet with a lap of 1:00.6485/106.014 mph in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Sebastian Saavedra, named Thursday to drive the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in place of Russian Mikhail Aleshin, spent Friday in an Indy car on a street course for the first time in two years. The 27-year-old Colombian carefully worked his way up to speed with a best lap of 1:02.1493/103.454 mph, ranking him 21st and last for the day.

“It’s a little bit of a last-minute scenario, which leaves very little time to prepare,” said Saavedra, who made his series debut in the 2010 Indianapolis 500. “We went out there and tried to get familiar with this Honda-powered machine. This is my first time in a Honda-powered car with this aero kit, so definitely there’s a lot to learn, but altogether very positive.”

Practice is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. (EDT) Saturday, ahead of knockout qualifying at 2:15 p.m. Both sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. NBC Sports Network also has a delayed qualifying telecast airing set for 6:30 p.m.

Sunday’s 85-lap race will air live on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 3 p.m. (EDT). An encore telecast will be aired at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.

###

Recuperating Sebastien Bourdais is a reluctant spectator in Toronto this weekend. At the behest of Craig Hampson, his friend and race engineer at Dale Coyne Racing, Bourdais is on-site to lend advice to the team’s rookie drivers, Esteban Gutierrez and Ed Jones. Bourdais is recovering from hip and pelvis fractures sustained in a crash during an Indianapolis 500 qualifying attempt.

“Mixed feelings, obviously. I’m not a good spectator, so it’s going to be a tough weekend for me,” said Bourdais, who won the Toronto race in 2005 and 2014 (Race 1). “It’s a place where I was looking forward to come and race, so, yeah, bittersweet. But in the meantime, it could have been a lot worse and I could not be walking.”

Since the crash on May 20, the 38-year-old Bourdais has been obsessed with returning to the cockpit of his No. 18 Honda before the end of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. The four-time Champ Car champion (2004-07) has been pleased with the progress he’s made in rehabilitation.

“It’s been a bit of a long process, but we knew that going in,” said Bourdais, who won the 2017 season-opener in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla., to collect career win No. 36 and move alone into sixth place on the all-time Indy car list. “The good thing is obviously things are heading in the right direction. There’s no setbacks or bad surprises, so it’s just a game of patience.”

Ideally, Bourdais would be cleared to test an Indy car in early August with the intent of racing in the final two events of the season _ the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International from Sept. 1-3 and the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Calif.) from Sept. 15-17.

“Unless that test goes not well and I’m really uncomfortable or not feeling up for it physically,” Bourdais said, “I should be able to make it back for the last two (races).”

Meanwhile, Gutierrez and Jones placed 19th and 20th, respectively, on the combined chart following Friday’s practices. Gutierrez, who spent the 2016 season competing in Formula One for Haas F1 Team’s first-year American-owned organization, continues to acclimate to the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda.

We made some very positive changes from Practice 1 to Practice 2, and I felt the car was pretty strong and I felt good in the car,” said Gutierrez, whose day included an off-course incident in Turn 1. “It’s good that I approached the weekend with a bit of experience and knowing what to expect. It’s also been really helpful to have Sebastien here _the best driver coach I can have this weekend. He’s been helping a lot and we’re all happy he is here.”

Jones noted the changing surfaces present a variety of troublesome bumps.  “It’s a challenging track, everyone seemed to be going off a bit,” said Jones, driver of the No. 19 boy Scouts of America Honda. “They smoothed out the track a lot which has helped, but in other areas the bumps have gotten a lot worse. This track is always difficult. We struggled with the balance in the car in the first session and in the second session it got a bit worse. We tried to fix it, but we didn’t make as much progress as we would’ve liked. It’s a shame, but we’ll look at everything and try to make changes for tomorrow.”

###

Combined practice results Friday for the Honda Indy Toronto on the 1.786-mile/11-turn temporary course at Exhibition Place with rank, car number, driver, chassis/engine-aero kit, time/speed and total laps completed: 

  1. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:00.2573-seconds/106.702 mph, 33
  2. (12) Will Power, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:00.4844/106.302, 40
  3. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara/Honda, 1:00.6253/106.055, 36
  4. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara/Honda, 1:00.6388/106.031, 46
  5. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:00.6485/106.014, 34
  6. (27) Marco Andretti, Dallara/Honda, 1:00.8321/105.694, 32
  7. (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:00.8540/105.656, 38
  8. (26) Takuma Sato, Dallara/Honda, 1:00.9509/105.488, 41
  9. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Honda, 1:00.9692/105.457, 40
  10. (21) JR Hildebrand, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:01.0735/105.276, 47
  11. (8) Max Chilton, Dallara/Honda, 1:01.0883/105.251, 46
  12. (10) Tony Kanaan, Dallara/Honda, 1:01.0964/105.237, 36
  13. (20) Spencer Pigot, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:01.1517/105.142, 49
  14. (98) Alexander Rossi, Dallara/Honda, 1:01.3164/104.859, 39
  15. (4) Conor Daly, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:01.3930/104.729, 31
  16. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara/Honda, 1:01.4874/104.568, 41
  17. (14) Carlos Munoz, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:01.4927/104.559, 33
  18. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara/Honda, 1:01.5214/104.510, 50
  19. (18) Esteban Gutierrez (R), Dallara/Honda, 1:01.7637/104.100, 25
  20. (19) Ed Jones (R), Dallara/Honda, 1:01.8670/103.926, 44
  21. (7) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara/Honda, 1:02.1493/103.454, 57

Note: (R) Rookie. All cars on Firestone Firehawk tires.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 15 2017
No Comment

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.