IndyCar: What drivers said after Friday’s two practice sessions in Toronto

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Here’s What Drivers Said after Friday’s two practices for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was a long day, for sure. I think we made really good progress. The No. 1 Hitachi Chevy is going forward, which is a good thing; we’re finding some speed from Session 1 to Session 2. We just need to make a similar jump tomorrow. I think if we can do the same thing, we should be sitting pretty good for qualifying. It’s a tough track. It’s very fast, much quicker than it was last year at this time in the weekend. We just have to stay on top of it and keep moving forward, but I’m proud of our effort and I think we have a good chance to capitalize here this weekend.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I think we went through a lot of stuff and managed to test a lot of things, so I think it was a positive day. Practice 1 was pretty good. I finished P9. Second practice, unfortunately, my (fast) lap was under red flag or we would have been 15th, but anyway, I still have some work to do. I think if we find a couple tenths, we’re going to be in the game. It’s such a cool place to drive. I’m looking forward to qualifying and the race.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “Today was OK. Obviously, there’s a lot to learn coming to a street circuit with a new car. They’ve done some paving work to the track, which is another curveball to throw us, but the Arrow Electronics team did a solid job. We didn’t get the best run on reds (Firestone alternate tires), and we had a problem with my seatbelt on my fast lap. We’ll take a look at the data we got today and talk it over with Robbie (Robert Wickens) and the No. 6 guys and make sure we can put on a good performance tomorrow for the hometown crowd.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “It feels good to be here in Toronto – the fans have been great. Earlier today, we had the autograph session and there were so many people from Guelph; it’s been amazing to have all the support. Practice didn’t go super well for us. The Lucas Oil crew and I definitely have some work to do overnight.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “A big shout out to the people here who look after the track. They’ve worked really hard and Turn 1 alone is going to create a lot of great racing. There are a lot of great updates. The PNC Bank car rolled off really fast off the truck and I expect the competition to continue to be really tough. We put a good lap together on the red Firestone (alternate) tires today, but I expect a lot more drivers to do that tomorrow for qualifying, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens here in Toronto for the pole.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I’m happy with the way we unloaded with the NTT DATA car. We have speed and I’m excited about this weekend, especially after how we performed on the last street races in Detroit. The track is a lot smoother with the repaving, which is nice. I think the biggest thing we need to work on is getting the car to handle over the bumps out there.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We didn’t get a very good run on reds (Firestone alternate tires). Unfortunately, I scraped the wall and bent a tow link, so had to change that, and then kind of ran out of time. But we’re in a good window apart from (Scott) Dixon. He’s just got the whole field covered by a mile, but I think the No. 12 Verizon Chevy is right there in that front group.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It was a good day for us. It didn’t help that I got a 10-minute penalty at the end because the track always gets better and we had to put our (Firestone alternate) tires on a little early, but I’m happy with the car. Obviously, I would like to be a little bit further up on the grid, but we haven’t had such a smooth day in a while as far as the first day goes. If we make the right changes for tomorrow, I think we’ll be pretty good.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Rousseau Honda): “P2 and 4 in both sessions. Swapped positions, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. You know, I think we put a good product on the track right off the trailer and (I’m) proud of everybody for working hard and making it happen with the No. 15 Rousseau Honda. So, you know, tonight, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Let’s go out and try to find a little bit more. I mean, I’m fourth and I’m less than two-hundredths off Takuma (Sato) in seconds, so it’s going to just be a typical INDYCAR qualifying session.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team Mouser/Molex Honda): “I think the Mouser Electronics/Molex car is pretty decent, we just can’t get it to brake properly and that unfortunately is killing us. I can’t get a clue what it’s going to do, when it’s going to do it and why it’s happening, so that is both frustrating and disappointing. We’ll just sit down this afternoon and tonight, go over all the data and see if we can find a reason for the problem.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “It’s great to be here at the Honda Indy Toronto and to be representing Paysafe in front of all their guests that will be here over the weekend. Unfortunately, this track isn’t easy and we struggled today in practice. We’ll keep working at it for tomorrow and hopefully we can find more speed for qualifying.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “I am enjoying my time in Toronto. The circuit is quite tricky and it takes some time to learn all of the little characteristics. I feel much more comfortable in the car now than I did during this morning’s session and I feel we are going in a good direction. I do like the street circuits and the challenges they present, but it’s still difficult when the sessions are only 45 minutes. I’m looking forward to sitting down with the engineers to see where we can continue to improve tomorrow.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): “We finished the day strong, which is always nice. We found a few things with the car that I really liked during this afternoon’s practice. Mainly front grip, I am always asking for more. I thought our pace on reds (Firestone alternate tires) was really good as well, which was also encouraging. We were able to close the gap to a lot of the other guys. Overall, it was a good first day and the Preferred Freezer Services car is handling really well. Hopefully, we can keep it like that tomorrow in qualifying.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’ll say the No. 22 DXC Technology Chevy was pretty good. I think we made quite a bit of improvement on the street course setup. It’s super tight here and it’s a blast to drive around the streets of Toronto. We need to make some improvements to try to be a little closer to (Scott) Dixon. He seems really strong, but I think we’re right in the mix. It’s just super competitive right now. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow.” (About keys to a successful qualifying session): “Fuel balance of the car, trying to find the little bits and pieces will be really important for qualifying. The little details come down to that, to extract five-hundredths of seconds in each corner. Then at the end of the lap it adds up so just working on details tonight.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Novo Nordisk Chevrolet): “I’m pretty happy with this afternoon’s practice session. We definitely made progress from this morning’s session. We have a few balance challenges left to address for tomorrow, but I feel pretty confident that we can learn on the No. 23 car side of things from looking at Max’s (Chilton) data and watching some on-track videos. We didn’t maximize the alternate tire run very well, and even toward the end of that last session, the track was continuing to grip up. I think both the No. 23 and No. 59 cars will take a step forward tomorrow.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “I feel a little behind the ball learning right now. This is definitely the toughest track I’ve come to in an Indy car, just trying to figure out the track and the balance of the car. We have a lot of work to do tonight – luckily, I have three really good teammates to lean on. As this year has kind of been, we get ahead in some places, then we come to someplace new and it’s like starting all over again. We just need to figure out what we need to do to go faster tomorrow and then make it happen.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “It was generally a pretty good day for the NAPA team. There are a lot of cars pretty much on the same lap time and then one car that is a step ahead of all of us. We’ve got to put our heads together and figure out what it is, but generally, I think the performance has been good. We just need to make a good couple of changes overnight, and hopefully, close the gap.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We had quite an interesting second practice today – we went out on (Firestone alternate tires) reds and then the red flag came out, so we never really got a new good run on new reds. All that considered, going P8 on our third outing on the red tires is not bad. We’ll put our heads together as a team – it looks like the cars are quick. Hopefully we’ll go a lot faster tomorrow.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “I think it was a very positive day. The car works pretty well really out of the box. The philosophy took over from last year’s generic RLL setup, and obviously, we built on it for the 2018 kit based on the reduction of aero. I feel positive. There was grip right away. The Firestone tire is very similar to last year. The compound might be a bit different, but it felt the same for me. I had good grip and it seems like the working range is a bit wider. The track change that Toronto has made is a significant difference. The main straight is a lot less bumpy and very comfortable for the drivers. It’s all safer because there is less bottoming and less locking. It’s an impressive job that they’ve done. The entire lap, I was really happy from Practice 1 to Practice 2. In Practice 2, it was much more to my liking and the lap times are very close. But it’s nice to be ahead.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “The weekend has started off better for us than in Detroit. I was on pace with the field early. In the first session, I learned the track and throughout both sessions; I became pretty comfortable. In the second session, we were able to run on the Firestone red (alternate) tires and get a good read. We also did some setup changes and tried some new things. The car is handling really well and I am confident we have found a good race setup. Now, we will prepare for qualifying and look to get everything we can out of that session.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “It was a challenging day here in Toronto, but I feel confident at this track. I love this circuit and I’ve been quick here before, but we’re just trying to work out the setup as a new team. We went slightly different ways in terms of setup on both cars in that last session, so we’ll come together tonight to see what worked and what didn’t to make the cars better for practice and qualifying tomorrow. I enjoy street circuits, so hopefully we can have a good weekend with good results for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet.”

CONOR DALY (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “I’m super happy with today. We have to look and see what the other Chevys are doing out there, and compared to them, we’re not bad for only having one day in the car. We got a great run on reds (Firestone alternate tires), but had a little traffic on our run, which is a shame. We’re making the steps we want to make and we’re working through our setup changes, which is great because that’s the goal of the weekend. It’s always nice to work with the Team Chevy guys again, they’re awesome. Obviously, I’m a passionate American man, so to have a Chevy powerplant behind us is always nice.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Oberto Circle K / Curb Honda): “It was a good first day. We still need to find that four-and-a-half tenths to (Scott) Dixon, he’s got that over all of us right now. We need to be careful, though, that chasing that doesn’t detune us elsewhere. Right now, the Oberto Circle K car is, I think, a P2 car – we just need to find that gap to P1.”

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”