Pagenaud powers to first 2017 pole in Toronto

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A crushing lap of 58.9124 seconds around the 1.786-mile Exhibition Place street circuit delivered Simon Pagenaud his first pole position of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, in the first major sign of Pagenaud’s championship defense form this year.

The Frenchman led both second and third practice and followed up that practice performance with perfection when it counted most, the first sub-59 second lap of the weekend and his first pole and front row start this year, in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet.

Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves all saved a set of Firestone red alternate tires by advancing through to Q1 on blacks, which paid dividends as the session progressed.

But quite impressively Graham Rahal broke up the Penske party at the front of the field, as he got his No. 15 Rousseau Metal Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing into second, at 59.2245 seconds.

Castroneves and Power made up Row 2 with Scott Dixon in the Firestone Fast Six for the sixth time in as many opportunities this year, the only driver to so, and James Hinchcliffe able to make it in in sixth place.

In Q1, Group 1, Power and Castroneves advanced for Team Penske as expected, but did so on Firestone black tires rather than reds – Power leading the way at a new track record of 59.3910 seconds. The other four that advanced were Detroit double winner Graham Rahal, Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti, and Ed Carpenter Racing’s JR Hildebrand.

Hildebrand advanced to Q2 for the first time this year as he hadn’t been better than 15th on a road or street course all year. This marked the team’s first Q2 appearance as well in 2017.

Meanwhile Hildebrand’s teammate Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones, Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz were knocked out.

Group 2 also saw the pair of remaining Penskes through, and like Power in Group 1, Simon Pagenaud made it through on blacks at 59.5570.

Behind him was Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Max Chilton and Scott Dixon.

Esteban Gutierrez was sixth in the session but the Mexican rookie made significant contact at the exit of Turn 11 with his No. 18 UNIFIN Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. The right side of the car was sheared off and there was a fire that erupted as a result. Gutierrez got out of the car but this leaves even more repairs to come for Coyne and the crew, who’ve been put through the grinder this year.

“Well, I had an understeery car, it’s a very high speed corner, I went too early, I hit the wall on the inside and it put me hard to the outside,” Gutierrez told the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jim Murphy. “I’m so sorry to the team. It’s not great to be in this position. Luckily I am OK and hope to be ready for the race tomorrow to recover. It was a very hard crash. I could feel it in my body. The walls here are very solid.”

That knocked him out of an advancement into Q2 and promoted James Hinchcliffe through at the last minute, instead. Those also knocked out were Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Conor Daly and Sebastian Saavedra, the latter filling in for Mikhail Aleshin this weekend at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“For some reason they threw the red, even though everyone was past it. Another call that doesn’t go our way,” Hunter-Reay lamented to the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Rob Howden.

Q2 saw another incident with Hildebrand crashing in Turn 8, which brought out a red flag. He hit the apex and then crashed on corner exit. It almost stopped the session early with the four Penske cars through ahead of Takuma Sato and Alexander Rossi, before the session resumed for a chance to give everyone one final shot.

The order got jumbled after the one-lap dash, as Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe all made it through while Newgarden, Rossi and Sato got knocked out. So Newgarden starts seventh ahead of Rossi, Max Chilton, Sato and Marco Andretti, and Hildebrand is 12th.

Pagenaud though led the session at 59.2922, beating Power’s mark from Q1, with Power, Castroneves, Hinchcliffe and Rahal all through to the Firestone Fast Six.

Pagenaud made that mark even better in the Firestone Fast Six with Rahal’s time able to interrupt the Penske dominance at the weekend.

Each of the top seven on the grid has a race win this year, and with Sato in 10th, eight of the top 10 have wins this year.

RESULTS

TORONTO – Results of qualifying Saturday for the Honda Indy Toronto Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.786-mile Streets of Toronto, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 58.9124 (109.138)
2. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 59.2245 (108.563)
3. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 59.4345 (108.180)
4. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 59.5430 (107.982)
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 59.7970 (107.524)
6. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 1:00.1415 (106.908)
7. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 59.8992 (107.340)
8. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 1:00.0114 (107.140)
9. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 1:00.1202 (106.946)
10. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1:00.1970 (106.809)
11. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 1:00.3384 (106.559)
12. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 1:02.3040 (103.197)
13. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 59.7585 (107.593)
14. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 1:00.0607 (107.052)
15. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 59.8686 (107.395)
16. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 1:00.0926 (106.995)
17. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 59.9820 (107.192)
18. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:00.2713 (106.678)
19. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 1:00.1650 (106.866)
20. (7) Sebastian Saavedra, Honda, 1:00.6272 (106.051)
21. (18) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 1:00.7441 (105.847)

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”