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Castroneves tops Toronto opening practice

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Not even a week after his win Sunday at Iowa Speedway, Helio Castroneves carried the early momentum in to lead opening practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy Toronto (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, CNBC).

The driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet tackled the 1.786-mile Exhibition Place street circuit at 1:01.1211.

It was nearly four tenths clear of teammate Josef Newgarden in second and over four tenths clear of a third Penske driver, defending series champion Simon Pagenaud, in third.

Scott Dixon was top Honda in fourth ahead of Graham Rahal to complete the top five.

In his first street course session in IndyCar since this race in June two years ago, Sebastian Saavedra took over the No. 7 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and was 2.8 seconds off Castroneves, and 2.1 off teammate James Hinchcliffe in seventh. Hinchcliffe was just behind Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot, a solid sixth.

A couple drivers ran into the runoffs but there were no major incidents in the session. The only red flag came for debris from a banner in Turn 1 coming loose and onto the race surface.

Elsewhere, Jake Query tracked down a couple interesting interviews for the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team manager Taylor Kiel didn’t comment on the details of the change from Mikhail Aleshin to Saavedra this weekend and said the car’s driver status for the rest of the year is still to be determined.

Meanwhile Marco Andretti, who was sidelined in the session early with an oil pump issues, addressed Query’s question about sports car rumors for him thusly: “That’s just the journalists doing as bad of a job as I’m doing this year. I’m not going anywhere.”

The second 45-minute practice of the day runs from 2:15 to 3 p.m. ET. Times are below.

NHRA: Dodge/Mopar unveils new Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car in Denver

Photos/video courtesy Dodge/Mopar
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If you’re a fan of NHRA Funny Car racing and Dodge/Mopar, you may notice something different at this weekend’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver, Colorado.

Two-time (2011 and 2014) NHRA Funny Car champ Matt Hagan – who has won the last two NHRA national events in the last four weeks – will be piloting a newly-designed 2019 Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, a 10,000-horsepower Funny Car that was unveiled this morning ahead of Dodge/Mopar’s premier NHRA national event.

The new Charger SRT Hellcat succeeds the former Mopar Dodge Charger R/T, which had been in use since 2015.

“We improved on the body design,” Hagan said of the new Charger Hellcat. “It was already a great design, a great body. But now, we’re going to have a little more downforce, a little more traction on these racetracks and it will be a huge performance advantage.”

The new Hellcat includes a number of innovations, including a new front splitter to increase downforce. Just like its predecessor, the R/T, the Hellcat will go head-to-head with Chevrolet’s Camaro in the NHRA Funny Car ranks.

“We will be able to press harder with more downforce on the nose, which translates into huge amounts of downforce on the run,” Hagan said.

According to a media release, the new Hellcat features major design changes in three key areas: the front end, bodysides and burst panel placement:

* “At the front, the shape of the nose has been tweaked and a new splitter (photo), built of carbon fiber and Kevlar like the rest of the Funny Car body, has been added. The splitter substantially mimics the look and shape of the production vehicle’s splitter while generating greater downforce to help plant the Funny Car to the track.

* “Bodyside scallops have been redesigned to more closely identify with the production Hellcat while also enhancing on-track function and performance. The deeper character lines provide greater visual ties to the street version of the Hellcat, while also helping to mitigate the “body burn” common on all Funny Cars due to the close positioning of the exhaust headers.

* “The location of the burst panel on the hood has also been reworked. The panel is now centered over the top of the engine to more efficiently release energy and pressure in the event of engine issues, a common occurrence in race cars that are pushed to the razor’s edge of performance.”

Since the R/T was first introduced into the Don Schumacher Racing corps, it has gone on to 50 wins, 42 runner-up finishes and 40 No. 1 qualifiers in NHRA national events and one NHRA Funny Car World Championship (Ron Capps, 2016).

The new Charger SRT Hellcat, which can exceed 330-plus mph and covers 1,000 feet in under four seconds, is the drag strip version of the supercharged, 707-horsepower production Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, the quickest, fastest and most powerful sedan in the world.

While Hagan will drive the first Hellcat, his other three Dodge-powered DSR teammates – Capps, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. – will soon take delivery of their own versions of the car over the remaining 11 races of the 2018 season.

One day after winning two weeks ago at Norwalk, Ohio, Hagan and crew chief Dickie Venables put the new Hellcat through its paces with several test runs. The results were so strong that it was decided to debut the car at Denver and run all qualifying and elimination rounds with it.

“We made four good, solid runs in testing at Norwalk,” said Hagan. “We put the body through a lot of different things and were really, really pleased with it.

“I really think it’s going to translate over to performance on the race track, and hopefully more win lights in the future.”

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