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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)

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
Chris Owens/IndyCar
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”