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.”

Times are below:

TorQuals

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.

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)

Combined speeds