Dixon delivers pole for Honda Indy Toronto Race 2

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Scott Dixon captured the pole for Race 2 of the Honda Indy Toronto (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network), with a best time of 58.9686 seconds around the 1.755-mile Exhibition Place street circuit. It’s the 19th career pole for the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver, and first this season. It’s also his first front row start – his best start prior in 2013 was fourth at Barber in April.

“Yeah, I saw the first lap and thought it was a lot quicker than we should be,” Dixon told IndyCar Radio. “The whole team worked on fine tuning. Yesterday was more my issue. The first race is a total unknown anyway (with the standing starts).”

Dario Franchitti was fastest again in his group of qualifying with a time of 59.1905. He’ll start second behind his teammate.

Had Franchitti’s time held up, it would have been his second of the weekend, fourth this IZOD IndyCar Series season and sixth in Toronto following his pole in normal knockout qualifying on Friday. Alas, it was not to be for the Scotsman and he’ll start outside the front row.

Behind Dixon in the second of two qualifying groups were Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Will Power, with Sebastien Bourdais next. Alex Tagliani will start ninth in Race 2 after ending fifth in his group, with E.J. Viso sixth.

Bourdais was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Power, who had clipped a banner exiting Turn 8, had it come loose and into Bourdais’ path.

The rest of the group, who will start in the odd positions 11-23, are Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, Tristan Vautier, Josef Newgarden, James Jakes and Ed Carpenter. Jakes stuffed his car at Turn 5 to bring out a red flag and lost his two fastest laps as a result.

Franchitti led a resurgent Chevrolet contingent in his group, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport), Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology – SH), Ryan Briscoe (Panther Racing), Simona de Silvestro (KVRT) and James Hinchcliffe (Andretti) slotting in behind.

From there, it was Justin Wilson, Charlie Kimball, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Sebastian Saavedra and Mike Conway in the first group. Those 11 drivers after Franchitti will take the even positions 14-24 on the grid for Race 2.

IZOD IndyCar Series – Hondy Indy Toronto Race 2
Unofficial Starting Lineup

Row 1
9-Scott Dixon
10-Dario Franchitti

Row 2
3-Helio Castroneves
1-Ryan Hunter-Reay

Row 3
12-Will Power
11-Tony Kanaan

Row 4
7-Sebastien Bourdais
4-Ryan Briscoe

Row 5
98-Alex Tagliani
78-Simona de Silvestro

Row 6
5-E.J. Viso
27-James Hinchcliffe

Row 7
16-James Jakes
19-Justin Wilson

Row 8
77-Simon Pagenaud
83-Charlie Kimball

Row 9
14-Takuma Sato
25-Marco Andretti

Row 10
55-Tristan Vautier (R)
15-Graham Rahal

Row 11
67-Josef Newgarden
6-Sebastian Saavedra

Row 12
20-Ed Carpenter
18-Mike Conway

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.