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IndyCar tests at reconfigured Texas test minus some Hondas

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Helio Castroneves immediately noticed the differences at the fast Texas Motor Speedway oval where he has won a record four IndyCar Series races and led more than 500 laps.

Castroneves and other IndyCar drivers, minus several Honda entries, tested there Wednesday. They got their first laps on the 1 1/2-mile track since it was completely repaved and significant changes made to Turns 1 and 2.

“Very valuable anytime you can come to a play when it’s completely new, because it’s completely new right now,” Castroneves said.

“It’s a different layout for sure,” Simon Pagenaud said.

The Texas test was supposed to be a full-field open test with 22 cars. But points leader Sebastien Bourdais and several Honda cars were held out as a precaution because their engines had higher mileage on them. Other cars not testing included entries designated for four-time series champion Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Ryan-Hunter Reay.

Instead of his usual No. 9, Dixon did laps in the No. 83 car of Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball. Dixon had the fastest lap of the morning session at 219.362 mph, topping last year’s pole-winning speed at Texas.

While maybe preferable to have more Honda cars on track, Dixon didn’t think it would be too much of a disadvantage in the testing to gather data on the track’s new surface and configuration. Cars also ran in groups at times to help determine downforce levels for the June 10 race.

“Always valuable to get track team as a team, I believe. Multiple cars, maybe not so much,” Dixon said.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda and IndyCar had agreed for that team’s No. 5 to use a manufacturer spec engine, with James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin sharing time in the car. But the car was parked after an install lap when Chevrolet made an official complaint based on a series rule that doesn’t allow for spec engines in open tests.

Since IndyCar rules allow spec engines only for safety, engine or tire tests, Hinchcliffe will be able to run the car for a tire test Thursday.

The Firestone 600 at Texas last summer was delayed 2 1/2 months, starting June 12 and ending August 27.

The race was red-flagged because of rain after 71 of 248 scheduled laps June 12, after having been postponed a day by wet weather. The race was still under caution when it started to rain again as track officials worked to repair the safety barrier after a scary crash involving Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden.

Daly and Newgarden didn’t participate in the resumption of the race, which Graham Rahal won on a last-lap pass to beat Hinchcliffe by eight-thousandths (0.008) of a second, the closest IndyCar finish ever there.

Newgarden on Wednesday ran his first laps at Texas since breaking his collarbone and sustaining a small fracture in his right hand during that crash.

“I haven’t really thought about it much to be honest with you,” Newgarden said. “I missed the race, which sucked, but it’s great to be back. I love this track.”

Texas decided to repave the track and do extensive drainage improvements after both NASCAR weekends last year also were hampered by rain. The old asphalt had become porous, almost like sponge, making it difficult to dry in a timely matter.

As part of the project, the banking in Turns 1 and 2 was reduced from 24 degrees to 20 degrees and the racing surface widened from 60 to 80 feet in that area.

“It is actually quite different,” Will Power said. “It’s a tighter radius, less banking. But once the grip comes, once you’re wide open, it’s very similar.”

The IndyCar test came three days after Jimmie Johnson won his record seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series there. Johnson started from the back of the field when NASCAR raced on the redone surface without any previous testing.

More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org

IndyCar recap: Honda Indy Toronto

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Street races for the Verizon IndyCar Series can often be affected by chaos, with the close quarters and “concrete canyons” often taking their toll on the IndyCar drivers and their machinery.

And the streets of Toronto, a venue notoriously rough of equipment, even in comparison to other street courses, was no different on Sunday.

The Honda Indy Toronto most certainly threw a wrench into the championship equation, as Scott Dixon’s victory combined with troubles from his rivals to see him increase his points lead to 64 points, but his win and the championship implications were certainly not the only stories of note on Sunday.

A look at other stories to emerge from Toronto are below.

Toronto Takes a Bite of IndyCar

A combination of tight city streets, hot temperatures, and a lot of rubble marbles wreak havoc on Sunday. Photo: IndyCar

Toronto is infamous as a venue that produces close quarters and often lots of contact between drivers, and Sunday’s race was no different.

And Toronto did not discriminate either, attacking veterans and young guns alike. Sebastien Bourdais (four-time champion, two-time Toronto winner) and spun and backed into the Turn 1 tire barrier. Ryan Hunter-Reay (former champion, Indy 500 winner, and 2012 Toronto winner) nosed into the Turn 3 tire barrier after locking up the brakes.

Josef Newgarden (defending IndyCar champion and 2017 Toronto winner) and Will Power (2014 IndyCar champion, this year’s Indy 500 winner, and a two-time Toronto winner) both clouted the wall exiting the final corner.

Alexander Rossi (2016 Indy 500 winner and a winner from this year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach) suffered two damaged front wings and made six pit stops on the day. And rookie Rene Binder spun and stalled in Turn 8.

Indeed, Toronto was its usual carnage-filled self. But it wasn’t only because of the tightly packed circuit. Sunday’s race was also contested in hot and slick conditions, with tire marbles and dust also prominent from the outset.

Newgarden particularly highlighted the marbles and dust when describing his contact with the Turn 11 wall.

“It was a tough race. Making contact with the wall didn’t help. I don’t know what it was to be honest with you, it was either marbles or dust from the sweepers; they’re trying to clean off the track and that yellow, when we already had tons of marbles 27 laps in,” he explained.

Even race winner Dixon bumped the wall once exiting Turn 1. While he didn’t suffer damage, he also noted how tricky the conditions were, and revealed just how exhausting the day was.

“I’m worn out, man, that was a physical race,” he detailed. “It was definitely easy to pick up lots of debris on the tires out there, and I think that’s what happened to Josef (Newgarden) on that restart where we took the lead. He tried to go a little bit fast into the last corner there in Turn 11, got into the gray and that was pretty much it.”

Indeed, the tricky conditions combined with the already difficult Toronto street circuit to create another chaotic outing north of the border.

Wickens, Hinchcliffe Give Canadian Crowd Something to Cheer About

Robert Wickens was elated to finish on the podium at his home race. Photo: IndyCar

Canadian fans are among the most enthusiast race fans you’ll ever find, and they’re particularly passionate about their homegrown heroes.

And they had plenty to cheer about on Sunday, notably in the form of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe.

Starting ninth (Hinchcliffe) and tenth (Wickens) respectively, they maneuvered their way through the chaos to run inside the top five – Wickens even used a slick move on a Lap 34 restart to go from fifth to second.

Wickens eventually finished third after battling with Simon Pagenaud, while Hinchcliffe was elevated to fourth after a late pit stop by Marco Andretti – Andretti needed a splash of fuel with one lap left.

Their results mark the third year in a row that a Canadian driver has been on the podium in Toronto (Hinchcliffe finished third in the 2016 and 2017 outings).

Wickens, who acknowledged he doesn’t typically get emotional, couldn’t help but feel a little emotion after scoring a podium finish in his home race.

“Thankfully, I’m not an overly teary guy, but that (finishing on the podium in Canada) was really cool. I can’t thank these Toronto fans enough. I mean, this whole week has been such a whirlwind of emotions, and to stand on the podium in my first professional home race, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Wickens revealed.

For Hinchcliffe, finishing fourth was just as impressive, if not more so given that he did it with a damaged car. Hinchcliffe suffered suspension damage following the Lap 34 crash in Turn 1, in which he had contact with Takuma Sato.

James Hinchcliffe overcame suspension damage to finish fourth in the Honda Indy Toronto. Photo: IndyCar

“On that restart melee, we got tagged by Takuma, which I should know better than staying on the inside of him in a corner like that. I bent the toe link, and from there, it was a bit of a struggle to feel the car out and see how it was going to change with the bend in the suspension,” he detailed. “Honestly, the Arrow Electronics car was still pretty great, and in that last stint, we were chasing down the leaders. Who knows what could have been, but ultimately happy with Robbie being on the podium and two SPM cars in the top five.”

And their results paid dividends in their championship standings. Wickens now sits sixth, while Hinchcliffe is back inside the top 10 – ninth.

New Faces Grace the Top 10

Charlie Kimball was one of several new faces to finish near the front in Toronto. Photo: IndyCar

Because so many of the usual suspects had trouble, some new faces graced the top 10, and even the top five, for the first time in 2018.

Charlie Kimball gave Carlin Racing its first top five by finishing fifth, his best finish since he finished sixth at Road America last year.

Tony Kanaan finished seventh for A.J. Foyt Racing, their first top 10 since Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit (Kanaan also finished seventh there).

Zach Veach finished eighth, his best result since he finished fourth at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Marco Andretti was running fourth before he pitted for a late splash of fuel – it would have been only his second top five of the year (fourth in Detroit in Race 1 is his best result of 2018).

And Jordan King just missed out on his first top 10, finishing 11th.

They all found themselves in position to capitalize as others around them faltered, and some were rewarded immensely as a result.

Misc.

  • Conor Daly deserves kudos for a strong outing after a last-minute call up from Harding Racing. He qualified 11th and ran a clean race to finish 13th. While unspectacular, Daly gave a nice account for himself as he seeks to return to IndyCar full-time.
  • A possible top five, what would have been his third in a row, got away from Takuma Sato when he smacked the wall exiting Turn 11. Combine that with Graham Rahal being involved in the Lap 34 pileup, suffering damaged suspension in the process, and it was a day to forget for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
  • Very quietly, Zachary Claman De Melo, the “other” Canadian in the field, drove another clean race to finish 14th. While it won’t garner attention like the results of his countrymen, it is another solid outing for a rookie who is still learning the ropes.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now takes a weekend off before heading to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN).

@KyleMLavigne