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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)

NASCAR America: Newgarden recaps rise to IndyCar title (VIDEO)

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Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden joined NBCSN’s NASCAR America on Tuesday to reflect on his rise to the top of the series.

Newgarden chatted with show host Carolyn Manno about his championship season, integration to Team Penske and bonding with his three teammates, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud won Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale but it wasn’t enough to overcome Newgarden’s points lead.

 

Report: Verizon likely to drop IndyCar title sponsorship after ’18

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One of the under-the-radar elements that’s percolated in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock this year is Verizon’s activation strategy itself, in its fourth year of its first five-year deal as title sponsor of the championship.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, told the Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern while he thinks it’s likely Verizon will end its title sponsorship of the series after 2018, they hope to continue the relationship in a different capacity.

While Verizon got in before 2014, IndyCar was a viable platform for the wireless company to activate in a way it couldn’t in NASCAR, when Sprint was the Cup Series’ title sponsor.

That’s since changed with Sprint’s contract ending after 2016. Verizon still activates within the paddock, working with CSM Sport & Entertainment, but its activation outside the paddock has seemed rather limited this year.

Verizon’s primary point of access or reference point of digital technology has been the Verizon IndyCar Mobile app, which was initially only for Verizon Wireless users but was later expanded to other carriers. That provides some app-specific exclusive content as well as a compilation of written, photographic and video content from IndyCar.com.

Even in the paddock, a Verizon-sponsored “Lunch with Legends” series – where some of IndyCar’s stars from the past had lunch at tracks with fans to provide some exclusive access – was not retained for 2017. Verizon hosted an event at a 5G-outfitted house in Indianapolis this year, prior to the Indianapolis 500, to showcase some of that network capability and virtual reality (VR) technology.

Provided Verizon does not continue as title sponsor past 2018, it would leave the IndyCar series in almost the same situation as prior title sponsor IZOD was in 2013, with a lame duck year.

The absence of a Verizon contract renewal has lurked beneath the surface all year in a year when INDYCAR (sanctioning body) has announced several long-term extensions with key manufacturer partners Dallara, Firestone, Chevrolet, Honda and many of its race tracks.

The competition side of IndyCar has done rather well and has enough momentum with Jay Frye at the head of its President of Competition and Operations for the last two years.

But it’s imperative for IndyCar’s sake its commercial side does as well too, which will make the 2018 season an interesting one from a “how to progress” and find a partner that can truly activate to lift the series’ profile even bigger than it is now.

The title sponsor evolution and the series’ new TV contract, with the current one set to end after 2018, enter as the early leaders in the clubhouse for biggest off-track stories to follow over the winter and into the start of 2018.

Vettel loses huge ground in title race after Singapore blip

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SINGAPORE (AP) In the space of three races, Sebastian Vettel has dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.

After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in late July, Vettel led by 14 points, with both drivers on four wins heading into the summer break.

But after crashing out on the first lap in Sunday’s Singapore GP, the Ferrari driver trails Hamilton by 28.

“That was very disappointing and it was definitely not the result we were expecting,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “But it doesn’t mean that the battle is all over, just that it has become more difficult.”

Yet it might seem to Mercedes that, for all of his experience, Vettel is throwing away the Formula One title.

“Clearly we would not feel comfortable in Ferrari’s shoes,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But this is not the time for cheering.”

Hamilton has won all three races relatively comfortably since the championship resumed in August, and with only six GPs remaining Vettel faces a huge task to stop Hamilton.

“We guarantee that we will be fighting right to the final corner of the very last Grand Prix of the year,” Arrivabene said.

Mercedes is still expecting a challenge.

“This result doesn’t change a thing in the big picture,” Wolff said. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder that there are six more opportunities for the luck to go against us this season, just as it happened to Ferrari.”

But it will be abundantly harder now for Vettel because, unlike last season, Hamilton has so far not retired from any races. Although he has failed to finish on the podium four times for Mercedes this season, that is the same number as Vettel’s finishes outside the top three.

After winning three of the first six races, Vettel’s grip has loosened with only one win in the past eight.

Points have been thrown away, too.

At the British GP in July, Vettel looked at least assured of a podium finish until an unexpected tire problem at the end of the race bumped him down to seventh.

On Sunday, he had a great chance to win starting from pole position on a hard-braking track much more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes.

A few seconds later, he was out of the race.

Vettel made a hasty error of judgment trying to cut off Max Verstappen heading into the first turn and ultimately caused a crash that also took out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who had made a blistering start – Verstappen and Fernando Alonso.

Vettel apologized to his Ferrari team afterward.

With both Ferraris out, Mercedes had a clear path as Hamilton won his 60th career race and teammate Valtteri Bottas took third.

Mercedes faced a similar scenario at the Spanish GP last year, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on lap 1 and both went out. Mercedes was livid with both drivers that day, and came perilously close to imposing team orders on them.

“You kind of feel for Ferrari. I have been in the situation of losing both cars,” Wolff said. “I know how bitter this is.”

The difference was that Hamilton and Rosberg were fighting each other for the title and, with no main rival from another team, it effectively cost them nothing.

Within Mercedes, Hamilton’s title charge is now the priority.

Although team orders are very unlikely to be imposed, it is clear – unofficially at least – that Bottas will be racing to help Hamilton equal Vettel on four world titles.

Wolff confirmed as much when he inadvertently referred to Bottas as “our second driver” in his post-race debriefing on Sunday, before quickly correcting himself to say “ah, other driver.”

Bottas has had a fine first season since joining as an emergency late replacement for Rosberg, who retired days after winning the 2016 title. Bottas has even exceeded expectations with 10 podiums in 14 races, including two wins, and sits in third place overall.

With a new contract for next year already signed, the Finnish driver has no need to impress Mercedes management and can play an ideal support role to Hamilton in the closing part of the campaign.

Still, he has a little bit of ambition left.

“There are plenty of races to come and plenty of opportunities,” said Bottas, who is 23 points behind Vettel. “Definitely Sebastian is the next target.”

With Hamilton ahead and Bottas closing behind, Vettel is under pressure to deliver at the Malaysian GP in two weeks’ time.

Ocon confirmed for another year at Force India

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Sahara Force India will keep the same driver lineup in 2018, with Esteban Ocon confirming Tuesday he’ll stay alongside Sergio Perez next season.

Although the two drivers have occasionally been at odds this year as Ocon has threatened Perez’s place as team leader, both have been instrumental in keeping Force India a clear fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, at the top of the crowded midfield behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Ocon’s had a very strong year, with 56 points scored and having made the points in all but one race (Monaco) this season. His best finish is fifth at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Being confirmed for 2018 means like others, the jockeying for spots in 2019 will be fascinating to watch.