Frenchmen Pagenaud, Bourdais top Toronto practice sessions

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TORONTO – A new race weekend and a slightly revised racetrack made for some new challenges for Verizon IndyCar Series teams. As the books closed today at the Honda Indy Toronto, it became apparent that experience plays a key on the 1.786-mile street circuit.

Veterans and Frenchmen Sebastien Bourdais (No. 11 Hydroxycut_KVSH Racing Chevrolet) and Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet) led the respective practice sessions as drivers and teams acclimated themselves with a Toronto circuit that features some new changes for 2016.

The final three corners of the 11-turn temporary street course around Exhibition Place were altered in the offseason to accommodate for commercial construction inside the circuit. The pit lane was moved to the outside (drivers’ left) of the circuit for the first time in its 30-year history.

CLICK HERE: Honda Indy Toronto practice 2 resultsHonda Indy Toronto combined practice results

The changes to the course slightly lengthened the track itself and, by day’s end, the adjustments caught out more than one of the series’ premier drivers.

Practice 1 went off without major issue, with Bourdais clocking the best lap at 1 minute, 2.9291 seconds (102.172 mph). Championship leader Simon Pagenaud led the second practice with the day’s fastest overall lap (1:01.7081, 104.194 mph), but the session also saw three red-flag interruptions – two for incidents in the final turns where the track reconfiguration occurred.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya clipped the inside wall in Turn 11 and veered hard into the outside wall, causing significant damage to his No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet. A short time later, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chevrolet) found the wall at the exit of Turn 11 and careened into the inside wall on the front straight. Neither driver was injured.

“It’s been a fun day,” Pagenaud said. “We made some adjustments for Practice 2. It actually went better than we expected. We’re on a good pace this weekend. Certainly I think we’re pretty set with the race car. Now we need to make some adjustments for qualifying, but we’re pretty close.”

Pagenaud’s teammates, Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Pennzoil Chevrolet) and Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet), followed him in the second session, as an increasingly rubbered-in track provided for lap times more than a second quicker than the morning session.

For James Hinchcliffe, the Honda Indy Toronto plays a special role, as he returns to race at the same place he came to as a kid to cheer on his hero, the late Greg Moore. Hinchcliffe, from nearby Oakville, Ontario, has raced Indy cars at Toronto six times. As the only Canadian racing full time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season, he admitted the desire to perform is a bit greater when racing at home.

“There’s definitely more tension when you come home, no doubt about it,” said Hinchcliffe, whose best Toronto finish has been eighth (twice). “At the end of the day, we’re trying to win every single race. It’s heightened emotions (here), a bad day feels worse, but a good day feels way better. Hopefully tomorrow and Sunday are good days and it all feels pretty good.”

Hinchcliffe classified today as a “good day,” as he piloted the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda to the fifth-fastest lap, at 1:02.1867 (103.392 mph). The 2016 Indy 500 pole sitter with four career Indy car wins missed last year’s Honda Indy Toronto recovering from injuries sustained in a practice crash ahead of the 2015 Indianapolis 500.

“Mikhail (Aleshin, his teammate) and I swapped notes after (morning practice),” Hinchcliffe said. “I took some things off his car, he took some off mine. Both cars were running well in that second session. Good to see.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to the streets of Toronto Saturday morning at 9:45 a.m. ET for a final practice before Verizon P1 Award qualifying, which begins at 1:30 p.m. ET, and can be found live on NBCSN. Coverage of Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto can be found live on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 2:30 p.m. ET, and the 85-lap race will be re-aired at 5:30 p.m. on NBCSN.

Watch Hinchcliffe take laps at speed around Toronto from his visor cam:

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