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Pagenaud powers to first 2017 pole in Toronto

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A crushing lap of 58.9124 seconds around the 1.786-mile Exhibition Place street circuit delivered Simon Pagenaud his first pole position of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, in the first major sign of Pagenaud’s championship defense form this year.

The Frenchman led both second and third practice and followed up that practice performance with perfection when it counted most, the first sub-59 second lap of the weekend and his first pole and front row start this year, in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet.

Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves all saved a set of Firestone red alternate tires by advancing through to Q1 on blacks, which paid dividends as the session progressed.

But quite impressively Graham Rahal broke up the Penske party at the front of the field, as he got his No. 15 Rousseau Metal Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing into second, at 59.2245 seconds.

Castroneves and Power made up Row 2 with Scott Dixon in the Firestone Fast Six for the sixth time in as many opportunities this year, the only driver to so, and James Hinchcliffe able to make it in in sixth place.

In Q1, Group 1, Power and Castroneves advanced for Team Penske as expected, but did so on Firestone black tires rather than reds – Power leading the way at a new track record of 59.3910 seconds. The other four that advanced were Detroit double winner Graham Rahal, Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti, and Ed Carpenter Racing’s JR Hildebrand.

Hildebrand advanced to Q2 for the first time this year as he hadn’t been better than 15th on a road or street course all year. This marked the team’s first Q2 appearance as well in 2017.

Meanwhile Hildebrand’s teammate Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones, Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz were knocked out.

Group 2 also saw the pair of remaining Penskes through, and like Power in Group 1, Simon Pagenaud made it through on blacks at 59.5570.

Behind him was Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Max Chilton and Scott Dixon.

Esteban Gutierrez was sixth in the session but the Mexican rookie made significant contact at the exit of Turn 11 with his No. 18 UNIFIN Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. The right side of the car was sheared off and there was a fire that erupted as a result. Gutierrez got out of the car but this leaves even more repairs to come for Coyne and the crew, who’ve been put through the grinder this year.

“Well, I had an understeery car, it’s a very high speed corner, I went too early, I hit the wall on the inside and it put me hard to the outside,” Gutierrez told the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jim Murphy. “I’m so sorry to the team. It’s not great to be in this position. Luckily I am OK and hope to be ready for the race tomorrow to recover. It was a very hard crash. I could feel it in my body. The walls here are very solid.”

That knocked him out of an advancement into Q2 and promoted James Hinchcliffe through at the last minute, instead. Those also knocked out were Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Conor Daly and Sebastian Saavedra, the latter filling in for Mikhail Aleshin this weekend at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“For some reason they threw the red, even though everyone was past it. Another call that doesn’t go our way,” Hunter-Reay lamented to the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Rob Howden.

Q2 saw another incident with Hildebrand crashing in Turn 8, which brought out a red flag. He hit the apex and then crashed on corner exit. It almost stopped the session early with the four Penske cars through ahead of Takuma Sato and Alexander Rossi, before the session resumed for a chance to give everyone one final shot.

The order got jumbled after the one-lap dash, as Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe all made it through while Newgarden, Rossi and Sato got knocked out. So Newgarden starts seventh ahead of Rossi, Max Chilton, Sato and Marco Andretti, and Hildebrand is 12th.

Pagenaud though led the session at 59.2922, beating Power’s mark from Q1, with Power, Castroneves, Hinchcliffe and Rahal all through to the Firestone Fast Six.

Pagenaud made that mark even better in the Firestone Fast Six with Rahal’s time able to interrupt the Penske dominance at the weekend.

Each of the top seven on the grid has a race win this year, and with Sato in 10th, eight of the top 10 have wins this year.

RESULTS

TORONTO – Results of qualifying Saturday for the Honda Indy Toronto Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.786-mile Streets of Toronto, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 58.9124 (109.138)
2. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 59.2245 (108.563)
3. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 59.4345 (108.180)
4. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 59.5430 (107.982)
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 59.7970 (107.524)
6. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 1:00.1415 (106.908)
7. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 59.8992 (107.340)
8. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 1:00.0114 (107.140)
9. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 1:00.1202 (106.946)
10. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1:00.1970 (106.809)
11. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 1:00.3384 (106.559)
12. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 1:02.3040 (103.197)
13. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 59.7585 (107.593)
14. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 1:00.0607 (107.052)
15. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 59.8686 (107.395)
16. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 1:00.0926 (106.995)
17. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 59.9820 (107.192)
18. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:00.2713 (106.678)
19. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 1:00.1650 (106.866)
20. (7) Sebastian Saavedra, Honda, 1:00.6272 (106.051)
21. (18) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 1:00.7441 (105.847)

Bruni, Snow win GT poles for IMSA at Lime Rock

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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A pair of first-time polesitters have the top spot for this weekend’s GT-only IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Northeast Grand Prix from Lime Rock Park. Gianmaria Bruni has his first pole for Porsche while Madison Snow has his first pole of the season.

GT LE MANS

Just 0.535 of a second covered the four manufacturers and eight cars in GT Le Mans in qualifying, but up front, Gianmaria Bruni has his first pole as a Porsche factory driver.

The Italian, in only his third weekend as a factory GT driver and second ever at Lime Rock and sharing the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR with Laurens Vanthoor, posted the ultimate pole time of 50.404 seconds around the 1.53-mile circuit.

“I’m very happy to do my first pole with Porsche, first qualifying. This team has taught me good things and gets the most out of it,” Bruni told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam after the checkered flag. He’s the 23rd different GTLM polesitter in IMSA since the 2014 merger, this surprisingly his first pole in the series.

Richard Westbrook took the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT into second at 50.540 in the car he shares with Ryan Briscoe.

The No. 911 Porsche and No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM are third and fourth, with the pair of Corvettes next.

The No. 4 Corvette C7.R is back in action this week following its accident at the end of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Per Corvette Racing, repairs to the car included: the entire front-right corner (components, bodywork), steering rack, diffuser, wing and changed a chassis tube due to a crease. There were no other cracks or damage to the frame. That car qualified fifth in the hands of Tommy Milner, who shares the car with Oliver Gavin. The pair won Corvette Racing’s 100th race as a team this race last year.

GT DAYTONA

After a run of seven manufacturers scoring pole positions in the first seven races in GTD, the streak was broken Friday at Lime Rock Park.

Not too far from its New Jersey base, the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 was the first car to score a second pole this year, this time in the hands of Madison Snow. Snow joins Bryan Sellers (Long Beach) as polesitters for this car this season, and this at least keeps the streak of different drivers alive.

The Nos. 54 CORE autosport and No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R in the hands of Colin Braun and Patrick Long were next. Snow’s 52.508 best lap edged Braun’s 52.699 and Long’s 52.836, with Jack Hawksworth best of the 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 brigade in fourth and Jens Klingmann taking the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 into fifth.

The top 15 of the 17 cars in GTD were separated by only 0.992 of a second around the 1.53-mile bullring.

The two-hour, 40-minute race runs late Saturday afternoon, from 3:05 to 5:45 p.m. ET.

Mid-Ohio, Honda Racing go galactic for 2017 at-track camping theme

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Honda Racing will channel a galactic theme for this year’s camping festivities at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a popular camping venue on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar.

This marks the third year of a contest for best campground site, with various Honda Indy 200 gifts on offer. The theme name this year is “May the G-Forces Be With You,” and the hashtag is #CampingWithHonda.  Last year’s was a “Christmas in July” theme, complete with Santa Claus. The full release from the track is linked here.

As this year’s event alludes to a very popular galactic film series in all but name, it will see a number of participants in the weekend festivities by to judge the campsites at the track – potentially in character!

Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in IndyCar, will visit the sites Saturday after qualifying to choose the winners. He did so last year as well.

Photo: PWC

Others, such as last year’s Mid-Ohio race winner Simon Pagenaud and RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3 factory driver in Pirelli World Challenge, Ryan Eversley (right), are expected to attend as well – though whether as themselves or potentially in a special character remains to be seen.

“It’s always a thrill and a special part of the Mid-Ohio weekend to take part in Honda Racing fun festivities like ‘May the G-Forces Be With You,'” Eversley told NBC Sports; the Atlanta native finished second in the second PWC GT race here last year in the previous generation TLX-GT, in one of his best drives of the season. “These guys always know how to cook up some fun activities and so if there’s an opportunity to dress up, have fun and play along with it, I’m down!”

Photo: IndyCar

Pagenaud, who was a longtime member of the Honda and Acura family before his move to Team Penske’s Chevrolet-powered, IndyCar program (right), added, “For me, as a fan, this film series is just the best. I love the battle between the light and dark side of the force, because I feel like we can all identify with that. I try to channel the force when I’m in my race car, so this will be a really fun weekend in Mid-Ohio.

“I plan to bring something to show my pride at the track, but I won’t ruin the surprise for you guys in advance!”

Expect similar characters to be present on site on Saturday evening. There’s also going to be a bonfire, live band (Columbus group MidLife Crisis) and s’mores, plus branded lighted batons which should display well at the bonfire on Saturday.

And for James Hinchcliffe, another Honda driver who is no stranger to having fun, he’s also part of the buildup to this event, as evidenced by the event teaser below.

Wehrlein nonplussed by Sauber-Honda speculation

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Pascal Wehrlein is not paying any attention to speculation that Sauber’s planned Formula 1 engine deal with Honda for 2018 could be on the rocks, saying his future remains open as he focuses on his current duties with the team.

Mercedes junior Wehrlein was placed at Sauber for 2017, and led the team to its first points finish of the year at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

Sauber had been given a boost two weeks earlier when it announced a deal to become Honda’s second customer team for 2018, including technical and financial support.

However, the deal was put in doubt following Sauber CEO and team principal Monisha Kaltenborn’s departure, leading to speculation that it had not been finalized.

Kaltenborn’s replacement Frederic Vasseur has made it a priority to resolve the matter, but it has made for a bleak outlook at Hinwil for the future.

With the 2018 driver market beginning to stir, Wehrlein has stressed he is not yet thinking about next season, nor is he paying any attention to the speculation about Sauber’s deal with Honda.

“I have no idea what is happening next year. Of course, I have heard all these rumors as well,” Wehrlein told the official F1 website.

“I cannot influence any of these things, so why worry about them? Whatever rumors there are in the air, it is no distraction for me – that is the bottom line.

“I have a contract for this season so I am only focusing on this year. Decisions are made by others and I am only here to drive, to perform as well as I can.

“Of course I want to see Sauber do well. They have the potential and have already been in good positions in the past and I want them to get back there. How and when? That is on another page.”

Wehrlein expressed his confidence in Vasseur’s leadership, although he expects the team to shift focus to its 2018 plans.

“I do have expectations of Fred and the team. I don’t know how fast Fred can change things or how he can change them, but we now have one race left before the summer shut down,” Wehrlein said.

“In the second half of the season the team will focus on next year, so I don’t think you will see his touch too much this year. So let’s see what we can still do with the tools that we have right now.

“I really respect Fred. I used to work with him in DTM. He had a team when I drove there in 2015. He has so much experience in motorsport and in many other ventures outside racing.

“He is a very successful man. He could help Sauber. He could be very good for the team.”

Keeping Grosjean, Magnussen for 2018 ‘a given’ in Gene Haas’ eyes

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Gene Haas is planning to field an unchanged line-up for his Formula 1 team in 2018, believing it to be “a given” that Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen will continue beyond the end of the season.

NASCAR team co-owner Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid in 2016, pairing Grosjean with Esteban Gutierrez.

While Grosjean scored a fifth-place finish in Haas F1 Team’s second race and picked up 29 points across the course of the season, Gutierrez failed to record a single top-10 result.

The Mexican was replaced by Magnussen for 2017, with the Dane taking 11 points through the first 10 races of the season.

Despite the fluidity of the driver market for 2018, Haas revealed in an interview with the official F1 website that the team is planning to race with Grosjean and Magnussen together once again next year.

“We will run with the same drivers that we have this year again next year. That is a given,” Haas said.

“And given the other continuity aspects, we should be better racers next season.”

Haas had been tipped to take on a Ferrari junior such as Antonio Giovinazzi or Charles Leclerc for 2018 given its technical ties to the Italian marque.

Grosjean is understood to be a target for Renault should it miss out on re-signing Fernando Alonso, while Magnussen penned a multi-year deal upon arrival at Haas at the start of the season.

Reflecting on Magnussen’s contribution, Haas believes the team has benefitted from his greater race performance that has allowed it to match its debut season points total in just 10 races in 2017.

“Esteban was a good driver. He was as fast as Romain in practice, but I think that Kevin has an edge in terms of race experience,” Haas said.

“He can score points and that was the key for bringing him on board. Kevin can grab points and Romain can too.

“We now have 29 points. Last year around this time we also had 29 points, but did not score for the rest of the season.

“So now if we can score another 29 points by Abu Dhabi, that would be a great position.”