IndyCar: Coyne, SFHR, RLL tire gambles come up snake eyes in Toronto

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Heading into the final stages of the second Honda Indy Toronto race, the top four runners were Justin Wilson, Josef Newgarden, Carlos Huertas and Luca Filippi.

But unless Noah swept into the Exhibition Place street circuit with an ark and titanic level downpour, the top four were more or less sitting ducks on Firestone’s wet weather tires on a rapidly drying track.

Wilson held on as best he could in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda from the lead, before eventual race winner Mike Conway made it past on the exit of Turn 6 on Lap 50.

Caution for a multi-car accident on Lap 51 at Turn 3, triggered for contact between Huertas and Charlie Kimball, proved the nail in the coffin for the off-sequence strategy.

Wilson was second, Newgarden fifth, Filippi 11th, Huertas 12th prior to the caution. But they fell down the order rapidly following the final restart on the worn wet tires. Wilson ended 10th, Newgarden 13th, Huertas 15th and Filippi 16th – the latter earning a post-race 30-second penalty for working on the car under a closed pit.

“We just kept battling along and we opted to try to stay out and gamble and it didn’t really pay off,” Wilson said. “It was probably the right thing to do but it is just tough, you know, you are leading with five minutes to go and that red flag pushed things back. I guess that is just the way things go sometimes. We were really hoping for another on track incident and to go under yellow to the end which would have really helped us out.”

Like Dale Coyne Racing teammate Wilson, Houston Race 1 winner Huertas was hoping for an encore of the Houston strategy to pay dividends on this occasion.

“In Race 2 we went for strategy on the wet tires at the end and it was working well,” Huertas said. “At the end if we had the yellow period we expected I would have had another strong finish. We risked it and it didn’t pay off this time. I am really happy with the risk we took to try to get on the podium and the team did a great job. I hope we can have better luck at the end next time.”

Newgarden also used strategy to his advantage to finish second last weekend in Iowa. But an encore wasn’t in the cards for the driver of the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda.

“Toronto just wasn’t kind to us this weekend. We had a fast car this weekend, crew was stellar, the team effort was really good, we just didn’t get anything put together,” Newgarden said. “Race two there was a lot of could have beens. Three different moments where were just needed circumstances to shake out for us and they didn’t work out. The red at the end really put the nail in the coffin. Without the red I think we would have still been ok, but that pretty much finished us off. Unfortunate weekend.”

Filippi’s pace has shown through in his four starts with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, but he’s battled bad luck in each race and hadn’t finished better than 16th.

“It was a bit of a difficult choice but we decided to stay on wets (rain tires) and got fourth again but unfortunately it stopped raining and the tires, in the end, weren’t the right choice. We tried the gamble though,” he said.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds