IndyCar

INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after qualifying for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Saturday’s soggy qualifying session for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto (to be televised live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, Verizon P1 Award winner): “I thought I steered us in the wrong direction for a moment. We went out a little later, which to me, I thought if we could keep the minimum amount of laps on the tires, the better. The risk is if it starts raining heavier during the session, then that’s the wrong choice because you need to be out there early getting a lap. But fortunately, it started drying up toward the end. In the middle, I thought I made the wrong decision because it was raining more intensely. And then those last two laps, it just got progressively better and I knew that last lap was going to be the one to nail it. And the car has been incredible this weekend. The Hitachi car has been fast. We haven’t had to do too much. We started a little bit slow, but then found our rhythm this morning. The guys did a great job. The team has been working well together. We got all three of us (Team Penske drivers) in the (Firestone) Fast Six, so that’s all you can ask for, I think, on a day like today. And so now we go to tomorrow and focus on the race.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – qualified 2nd: “I’m a bit disappointed and pissed at myself for not putting the PNC Bank car on pole position. I feel bad for my team as well, as they gave me a car capable of doing it. I made a mistake in Turn 5 and that cost me a few tenths. All in all, it’s not terrible starting on the front row, but when you know you had one and then let it get away, it hurts a little bit.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet) – qualified 3rd: “Well, I’ve had worse days, so this is nice. I mean, it’s obviously great for Team Penske because we’ve been struggling a bit on the street course package, and we’re showing this weekend the improvement brought to the team, so really glad to see all three of us in the (Firestone) Fast Six. The car was great, honestly, and the session was a lot of fun. Those are my favorite conditions when it changes, and you really have to adapt and take chances and it was a lot of fun. The track is really, really awesome to drive with this package and these cars. Could I have done better? For sure, I think we could both do better, but pretty satisfied with third and being with my teammate (Will Power) over here.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – qualified 4th: “I just made a mistake on that one lap. I had a pretty good lap going, and caught the wet cement there that forced me out wide there. A little disappointing because we should have been further up, but that’s racing. No one makes mistakes these days. Qualifying means everything.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) – qualified 5th: “Pretty disappointed, really. I think the first session we were competitive. We were in the wet. We were out there with Scott (Dixon), and it was a pretty easy job to kind of do that lap and transfer. The second round was completely dry, and we weren’t mega, but we were kind of on a conservative setup still. We felt pretty confident in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS car going into Round 3. It started to rain a little bit again, but it didn’t completely take away the track from us and just didn’t have the pace for some reason. We were a second — me and Ryan (Hunter-Reay) were a second off of the front row. Very disappointing. I thought we had a car to fight for pole, especially after this morning, so row three is not great.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – qualified 6th: “We’re just trying to make the car better and find the balance that I need out of it, but it’s so easy to touch a wall here and there. We got it closer today in the dry (qualifying) session when we were P2, but we just didn’t have it with a little bit of moisture and we were sliding around too much. We just have to pick up and make a good race car from here.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) – qualified 7th: “We were very competitive the entire weekend so far. Qualifying was tricky. It started off in rain conditions, then damp, then it started to dry. We decided to do a slightly different strategy, which was that we started off on new reds (Firestone alternate tires), then halfway through we changed to the new blacks (Firestone primary tires), which seem to be quite durable. We had a little degradation problem with the first set of the new tires. It seemed to be still drizzling, so the track conditions were not as good as we thought. Perhaps the softer compound, the red tire, had maybe a little more premium grip and we lost out by a tenth (of a second) to be P6 (sixth fastest; to advance to Round 3). It’s a pity, but we tried. What we know is we have a strong race car, so hopefully, we have a good pace tomorrow.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) – qualified 8th: “That was a really tricky qualifying session with it raining, then it got dry and then started raining again. We did a good job in the first session on the wet tires. We got through to the second round by a few tenths, but I knew that would be the hard one. Group 2 had already had some running on the slicks and had a feel for how the track was where we had just been out in the rain. Even with it being a bit greasy, I set my fastest time of the weekend, so I feel I upped my own performance a bit. We really worked on the car and ironed out a lot of the issues we’d had so far this weekend. The car is back up there where it should be, where we have been in the past. I think we could have snuck inside the top six, but I was taking a small margin because you could still see rain on your visor. I’m happy with it, but it was close.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda) – qualified 9th: “That last lap was everything we had. I made that mistake out of Turn 8 the lap before, which first lap on those sticker (tires), is usually the best. Who knows what that lap could have been… The lap after, we were kind of building on that and we got thrown a curveball, so that’s my fault. The Arrow Electronics car was getting better every session and the rain and these conditions kind of threw us for a loop. It’s a shame. I think if we hadn’t had that spin, we might have been able to transfer into the Firestone Fast Six. Proud of the SPM guys – it’s been a bit of a struggle this weekend. We’re keeping our heads honest. We can race from here and try to give the hometown fans a good result.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda) – qualified 10th: “We ended up switching the Lucas Oil car back to a dry car setup before qualifying. I think being in Group 2 is a bit of a handicap because everyone in Group 1 didn’t end up using any alternates and were quicker in Round 2 with that leftover set of reds (Firestone alternate tires). We were the only car that went out there on blacks (Firestone primary tires) on the first run and it started raining. We maybe went a little too early on to the reds to make sure we could get a red lap in for the Firestone Fast Six, but it wasn’t enough today. Tomorrow is a new day, and I’m just looking forward to putting the helmet back on and racing in front of the hometown crowd.”

CONOR DALY (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet) – qualified 11th: “Well today was great. We saw some improvements in P3, but we just got balked on our fastest lap there. To go out on the rain tires that I’ve never driven on either, and it’s a new tire with a whole new situation on the street course, but I love the rain. We had one lap to do it and we did it, so I was over the moon happy. I have to thank Chevy for dialing us in there and all the No. 88 Harding Racing guys because we made improvements every session. We went half a second quicker than we’ve gone in the dry in Q2, so coming out 11th, as well, is just awesome. It’s such a big boost for the weekend because qualifying has always been a struggle of mine for sure, but to come out and do it like that is nice.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – qualified 12th: “Pretty good qualifying. I have to say thanks to my team. We kept working hard since the first practice and kept developing and improving the car. We made it to the top 12, which I was not expecting. I’m pretty happy to be honest, I think we might have a great car for the race, too, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Rousseau Honda) – qualified 13th: “The whole session was influenced by weather, but that’s not necessarily the reason we’re where we are. We didn’t have enough to advance to the next round, which is frustrating. Our car in the dry is really strong, but not in the wet. We’ll have to work hard overnight to make sure we have a good race car. The good thing is we do have six sets of new tires for the race. We’ve got three sets of reds (Firestone alternate tires) that are brand new and also three sets of blacks (Firestone primary tires), so we’ve got tires for days over these guys. And if the wear on the reds is a factor, it could play into our hands. And if it’s not and the reds do last and they are quicker, it could play into our hands even more. We’ll see how it goes in the morning warm-up. I’m clearly disappointed for both myself and Takuma (Sato) after the way this weekend started. I don’t think any of us saw ourselves in this position.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Oberto Circle K / Curb Honda) – qualified 14th: “It’s definitely a disappointing result. We had a great car and should have definitely been fighting for the pole position. We came in for the Firestone reds (alternate tires) too early, and when the track was dry enough to give it our fastest lap, our tires had already past that point. Not happy that we didn’t get the result the Oberto/Circle K car deserved, but we’ll race our tails off tomorrow and fight for the win.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – qualified 15th: “We had a dry setup on, and then with the rain, I don’t think we responded accordingly, so we paid the price. Tomorrow is the race, so we’ll try to make something out of it.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet) – qualified 16th: “We just put the red (Firestone alternate) tires on too soon. We started the session with them, and by the end of it, when the track was at its best and its driest, we had already used the tires up. We were pretty high up throughout most of the session, but times picked up pretty quick there at the end. The timing wasn’t right to put on a second set; but in hindsight, we should have done blacks (Firestone primary tires) then reds. That was the original plan, but the weather threw a curveball at us. It’s a little disappointing, as we’ve been so quick. We know the car can be fast, so tomorrow we’ll get the Preferred Freezer Services car moving in the right direction. We’ll have a lot of work to do in the race, we were pretty confident we would be advancing today. We were just a little too eager on the dry tires and wore them out too quick.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS – qualified 17th: No comments available.

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet) – qualified 18th: “It was a hectic qualifying session. We started out on wets (rain tires) and decided quickly to come back in for Firestone reds (alternate tires), which I think was absolutely the right decision. We just kept getting quicker throughout the session, but unfortunately, so did most everyone else. It just didn’t come together for us in qualifying, but I’m still very confident in what we can do tomorrow during the race with the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet) – qualified 19th: “It was a really short and tricky qualifying session due to the red flag. We did a great job in the first outing running P7 until the red flag. We only had time for one lap for the second outing and I was not going to risk too much. We will start P19 tomorrow and we look forward to a solid race.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Novo Nordisk Chevrolet) – qualified 20th: “It was another learning experience for the team today with the session going from wet to dry, but I think we definitely made the right call starting on the Firestone alternates. When we came in and put the second set of alternates on and went back out, we unfortunately just caught the checkered flag first, and with the track rubbering in and getting faster every lap, we lost a few tenths, which could’ve made the difference in where we ended and advancing to the second round. Regardless of how it ended, it was a great learning experience for the team especially with us and the No. 59 car splitting strategies with tires. It’s not where we wanted to be and it’s not where the speed of the No. 23 Novo Nordisk Chevrolet is, but I think tomorrow with good pit stops and a good strategy we can move forward.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – qualified 21st: “It was a tough session for us. It was the first time we ran in the wet all weekend in the NTT DATA car. The No. 9 team elected to go with a full wet setup, and we went full dry. It obviously started raining, and we struggled with traction. On my lap, I just lost the rear end of the car and there was nothing I could do about it. So, it was super frustrating and we had time in the car to advance, for sure. Now we have a lot of work to do tomorrow, but I’m sure the team is up for it.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda) – qualified 22nd: “We started off on wet (tires) and put on a set of Firestone reds (alternate tires) and went for it. The track just kept going faster and faster and I think we used our reds a couple laps too early. The only option I had to try and transfer was to try and make something big happen on the last lap. I must have hit the wall three times before I even got to the last corner, and I needed probably one more tenth and just pushed too hard and lost the car. Unfortunately, we lost our lap, so we should be starting from 14th, but we’re starting on the back row. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow, but if it’s meant to happen, it will.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda) – qualified 23rd: “We made the right call by going out with the Firestone reds (alternate tires) on our No. 19 Paysafe car immediately at the start of qualifying. There were only a few of us on dry tires and the times were definitely faster on those. Unfortunately, everyone else had the time to come in and change tires and we ended up at the bottom of the timesheet when all was said and done. That said, it’s been extremely fun to drive an Indy car here. The fans are great, the course is great and I’m really excited for the race tomorrow.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay is all-in in bid to win second IndyCar championship

Photos: IndyCar
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The third time has truly been the charm for Ryan Hunter-Reay.

After back-to-back mediocre seasons in 2016 and 2017, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida resident is back where he belongs in 2018: in the hunt for what he hopes is his second Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Hunter-Reay won the title in 2012. But he suffered through a 12th place finish in 2016 (the second-worst in his 12-year IndyCar career) and a ninth-place showing in 2017.

While he earned three podium finishes in both 2016 and 2017, he hadn’t reached victory lane since 2015.

That all changed just over two months ago when he and his Andretti Autosport team came through to take the checkered flag at Belle Isle.

Hunter-Reay celebrates after his win at Belle Isle in June.

Now, in addition to that win, Hunter-Reay has four podium finishes, his most since six each in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

And now, with four races left on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule – starting with this Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway – Hunter-Reay is enjoying the fruits of his success.

And he hopes there’s even more success to come in those four races, including – with the fortuitous opportunity to earn double points in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway – the potential to win his second championship.

The 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner heads to Pocono ranked fifth in the points standings, 95 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.

“I think overall we’ve been pretty strong, competitive everywhere we’ve gone,” Hunter-Reay said on Tuesday’s IndyCar media teleconference. “We’re back up at the front regularly fighting for podiums, and that’s important.

“No doubt, the past couple races have been missed opportunities (after finishing runner-up at Road America, he’s scored finishes of 19th at Iowa, 16th at Toronto seventh two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio).

“More often than not we show up at a racetrack and we’re contending. It’s been a strong season in many ways. There’s been some missed opportunities in there, no doubt. Hopefully we can close out the season.”

But Hunter-Reay also admits he’ll need some help.

Being 95 points down to Scott, what needs to happen now is we need to go on a run and he needs to start having some bad luck, some difficult races, some circumstances going against him, things like that, which it can do,” Hunter-Reay said. “You just have to keep your head down.

“In this series, it’s the same way in a race, you could be starting mid pack, back of the pack. If you go into it with the right mindset, keep your head down, be tenacious, persistent, you can win races, any of them, and you can win championships.

“Just have to keep focused and make the most of it. Number one thing we have to do is go on the offensive and make a run for it.”

Even with Dixon’s sizable lead, Hunter-Reay isn’t giving up his pursuit of the championship. In a sense, his battle this season is similar to what occurred in 2012. There were those who counted him out, and yet when the dust had settled, he emerged with the title.

“I learned a lot in my racing career, especially through the 2012 season, fighting for the championship with Helio (Castroneves) and Will Power,” Hunter-Reay said. “Once you thought somebody really had an upper hand, thought they were running away with it, everything turned around. There’s still a lot of racing to go (this season).

“Absolutely, we’re going for it, no doubt. We have to focus on every session, make the most of it, race wins. That’s what’s going to get you there.

“Going to Fontana (the 2012 season finale), nobody really had us at a shot of winning it. I forget what the points deficit was. At the end of the night we ended up winning by three points. It’s not over till the last lap, especially with double points on the line, could be a huge swing race.”

This weekend’s venue, Pocono Raceway, has been good to Hunter-Reay the last three years, winning in 2015, finishing third in 2016 and eighth in last year’s race.

“I think we have a great chance (for success at Pocono),” Hunter-Reay said. “I mean, the Pocono race is different than Indy. It is its own beast. It’s very particular in that in turn three with banking, it’s a true handling corner. Feels almost like a Milwaukee type of corner, but going twice the speed.

“You have to set your car up for that. You have to set your car up for turn one, which is a massively banked, tight radius corner. It comes more down to a handling aspect to balance, trying to get the setup right.

“I think we’re going to see a different type of race. I don’t think it’s just going to come down to top end speed, although that will help at Pocono. I think it’s going to be more of a handling race.”

However, with limited practice at Pocono – just two sessions on Saturday – his team will have to scramble to get things right as soon as they unload off the hauler.

“Yeah, it’s a major time crunch,” Hunter-Reay said. “(It’ll be) really hard to get all that done in a short amount of time. It’s really the compromise between turns three and one. That are polar opposites. One corner feels like it’s got no banking, no support to it, the other one is massive banking and a tight radius. It’s very difficult to get those two corners right and get the compromise right with the car when you’re along.

“Once you get into traffic, things change a lot. There will be a qualifying setup, a race setup. We have to do all this with two hours total track time. It will be very difficult, no doubt.”

Hunter-Reay points to the new-style IndyCar this year for his and his team’s uptick in performance in 2018 over the last two years.

“I think as a team we kind of struggled during the aero kit years,” he said. “Now that we’re back on a universal aero kit like we were when we had some success in 2012, ’13 and ’14.

“You show up on a race weekend, you know you have a chance. You’re going in there and the team is going to be able to give you the car that you potentially need to win.

“That makes all the difference really for a driver, just knowing week in and week out that you’ve got a shot at winning and making that run for the championship. I think that’s what we showed this year. It does a lot for your confidence and it really keeps you motivated, no doubt.”

While most race car drivers deny they worry about the standings or points race, Hunter-Reay refreshingly said he’s well aware of where he’s at in the IndyCar rankings – and will be looking forward to the end of Sunday’s race to see where he’ll be heading into the final three races.

“You can’t help but notice where you are (in the standings),” he said. “You really have to be focused on yourself and just winning. You can’t worry about who is where at what time in the weekend. You got to absolutely focus on putting yourself up front.

“After the race, first thing I ask is, ‘where are the guys that we’re fighting in the championship, where did they finish?’ It’s just a curiosity standpoint. You just have to stay focused on yourself.”

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