Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Toronto Friday recap

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The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires kicked off its weekend on the streets of Toronto on Friday. The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires held practice, while the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires held their first qualifying sessions of the weekend (Race 1 qualifying for USF2000, while Pro Mazda held qualifying for Race 1 and Race 2).

Quick recaps of those sessions for all three series are below.

Pro Mazda: VeeKay Sweeps Toronto Poles

Rinus VeeKay entered the weekend 46 points down to Parker Thompson in the championship and in need of a banner outing in order to make up ground. And he got his weekend off to a perfect start by capturing the pole for both Pro Mazda races, taking a pair of crucial championship points in the process.

Race 1 sees David Malukas, the winner of both races at Road America, flank VeeKay on the front row, with Thompson qualifying third ahead of Sting Ray Robb and Robert Megennis.

Race 2 again sees VeeKay and Malukas on the front row, though Thompson will start 14th and last on the grid after not setting a time due to an electrical issue. Megennis, Harrison Scott, and Sting Ray Robb round out the top five starting spots for Race 2.

In all, it means the door could be open for VeeKay to gain significant ground on Thompson in the championship hunt.

USF2000: Dickerson Takes Race 1 Pole, Kirkwood to Start Third

Dakota Dickerson will lead the USF2000 field to the green in Race 1 at Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Dakota Dickerson claimed the pole for Race 1 of the USF2000 weekend at Toronto in only his second weekend with ArmsUp Motorsports – he joined the team at Road America at the end of June.

However, he was not the driver with the fastest time at the end of the session. That driver was points leader Kyle Kirkwood, but he, Kaylen Frederick, and a host of others were penalized for not slowing down for a yellow flag.

Once everything was sorted out, the reshuffled order resulted in a pole for Dickerson.

Kaylen Frederick, who has three second place finishes in a row entering the weekend, will start Race 1 in second while Kirkwood will start third. Rasmus Lindh and Darren Keane rounded out the top five.

Of note: Alex Baron, currently second in the USF2000 championship, is conspicuous in his absence, as Swan-RJB Motorsports, the team with whom Baron competes, is not entered at Toronto. This means that Kirkwood, whose next closest rival is Frederick, is essentially 115 points up on “second place” Frederick, who is in position to overtake Baron this weekend.

Indy Lights: Franzoni Tops Friday Practice

Victor Franzoni during practice at Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Friday practice for Indy Lights saw Victor Franzoni go to the top of the board, followed by Santi Urrutia. Championship combatants Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta ended up third and fourth, with Ryan Norman, Aaron Telitz, and Dalton Kellett rounding out the field.

All three series will complete their first races of the weekend on Saturday. Pro Mazda will be the first to do so at 10:50 a.m. ET, followed by USF2000 at 11:45 a.m. ET. Race 1 for Indy Lights rolls off at 12:40 p.m. ET.

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James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.