Dixon wins Honda Indy Toronto pole position

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TORONTO – Scott Dixon scored the Verizon P1 Award ahead of Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto (2:30 p.m. ET, CNBC), and thus has his first pole position of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the 24th of his career and first since Mid-Ohio last year.

The New Zealander in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet edged Helio Castroneves on his final lap in the Firestone Fast Six, with a 59.9073 lap time at the 1.786-mile Exhibition Place street course just ahead of Castroneves’ 59.9425.

The driver of the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet was first into the 59-second bracket in the Fast Six session after also doing so in Q2. But it wasn’t enough to hold off Dixon’s final lap flier.

Points leader Simon Pagenaud in the No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet starts next to Will Power on Row 2 ahead of past Toronto winner Sebastien Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe in Row 3. The P6 start is Hinchcliffe’s best in Toronto.

Temperatures of 68 degrees ambient and 107 on track set the stage for qualifying at Exhibition Place.

The highlight of Q1, Group 1, was both Dale Coyne Racing cars making it through to Q2, for the first time since Mid-Ohio 2014 (Justin Wilson P8, Carlos Huertas P10). Conor Daly was third in his group in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda, with the returning Luca Filippi fifth in the No. 19 IMPCO ComfortPro Honda.

Those two were mixed in with session leader Pagenaud, then Castroneves, with Tony Kanaan and hometown hero Hinchcliffe also advancing.

The five dropped included Jack Hawksworth, Carlos Munoz, Charlie Kimball, Alexander Rossi and Spencer Pigot, the latter in a disappointing effort considering he won both Indy Lights races last year.

Times tumbled with the track rubbering in further in Group 2. Juan Pablo Montoya in the rebuilt No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet was first into the sub-60 second bracket on Firestone reds, at 59.9964, only to be usurped by teammate Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet at 59.7747.

Others who advanced included Bourdais, Dixon, Newgarden and Aleshin. The five that didn’t were Max Chilton, Graham Rahal, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti.

“What we’re missing is overall grip and compliance. That’s so important on a track like this,” Hunter-Reay told NBCSN. “We’re not even on the same planet as the front runners when it comes to grip. … We’re fighting the car. Really swatting at flies.”

Rahal added, “I (went for it) and we hit the fence. The car is still ill-handling. I told the guys it was going to take a magic lap to advance, I knew it. Our basic balance, all weekend, we’ve been killing the rear tires, can’t put power down at all. … I went for it and the sucker went straight and we just tagged the wall.”

The Andretti Autosport quartet did not advance in total, with Coyne and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports carrying the flag for Honda in the Honda Indy Toronto qualifying.

In Q2, Dixon and Pagenaud both went into the 1:00.4 bracket on Firestone blacks. Meanwhile Daly went reds to reds for Coyne in his quest to advance.

Castroneves added his name to the 59-second bracket with a 59.8562 lap, ahead of Power, Dixon, Pagenaud, Bourdais and Hinchcliffe.

Daly came up just short of the Fast Six in seventh, albeit still in a career-best starting position. He was just ahead of longtime friend Newgarden in eighth – thus making for an American Row 4 lockout – with Montoya ninth, Aleshin 10th, Filippi 11th and Kanaan in 12th.

“We’re just trying to improve. … It’s real challenging to make it there,” Daly told NBCSN. “Everyone is so good in this series. It’s just cool to be in that group and kind of fighting for those positions. I’m proud of the team, we needed a rebound from last weekend.”

Newgarden, the defending Toronto winner and Iowa dominant race winner, added to NBCSN: “I’m always optimistic. There’s always something that can happen in the race. This is our best session; qualifying is the highest we’ve been this weekend. You hate to say eighth is the best we’ve been this weekend, but I’ve always got faith we can figure it out. That’s what happens when you get to racetracks, you try to solve the puzzle. We’re going to have to figure it out, man, we’re the defending champs. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).