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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.


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)

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.