Pacing Toronto practice has Pagenaud feeling positive

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TORONTO – Simon Pagenaud says his fortune has not been that good in the past at the Honda Indy Toronto, so the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion looks at being fastest in today’s practices as a positive sign.

Pagenaud turned the quick lap of the day in this afternoon’s 45-minute session on the streets of Exhibition Place. Driving the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, Pagenaud circled the 1.786-mile temporary circuit in 1 minute, 0.2573 of a second (106.702 mph).

HONDA INDY TORONTO: Combined practice results

In eight previous Toronto races, Pagenaud has never qualified better than second or finished better than fourth. The 33-year-old Frenchman wants to improve in both areas in this weekend’s 33rd Indy car race at Toronto since 1986.

“The car has been phenomenal all day,” Pagenaud said. “I feel very comfortable. It’s great to be back in Toronto. This track is so much fun to drive on because it’s different to other tracks.

“Here it’s very low grip; you slide around in the corners. The tarmac changes throughout the corner and it’s giving you a great challenge. I really enjoy that, I really do. Every corner’s different and you need to change your driving corner to corner. It’s not boring, I can tell you that.”

Max ChiltonWill Power, driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, was second fastest today at 1:00.4844 (106.302 mph). The 2016 Honda Indy Toronto winner is the active driver with the most Toronto victories (three), but said getting a read on the ever-changing circuit makes it difficult.

“It’s a tough track to get the balance right,” Power said. “The grip levels are so difficult all the way around. You’ve got some bumpy areas with no grip and bumpy areas with grip, then completely smooth areas. Turn 9 goes from a lot of grip to absolutely nothing. It’s something else. Very tough to get it all right.”

Scott Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2017 points leader after 11 races, was third today with a lap of 1:00.6253 (106.055 mph) in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Helio Castroneves, eight points behind Dixon after winning the Iowa Corn 300 on July 9, ranked fifth on the time sheet with a lap of 1:00.6485 (106.014 mph) in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Sebastian Saavedra, named Thursday to drive the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in place of Mikhail Aleshin, was in an Indy car on a street course today for the first time in two years. The 27-year-old Colombian carefully worked his way up to speed with a best lap of 1:02.1493 (103.454 mph), that ranked 21st for the day.

“It’s a little bit of a last-minute scenario, which leaves very little time to prepare,” Saavedra said. “We went out there and tried to get familiar with this Honda-powered machine. This is my first time in a Honda-powered car with this aero kit, so definitely there’s a lot to learn, but altogether very positive.”

Practice resumes at 10 a.m. ET Saturday, ahead of knockout qualifying at 2:15 p.m. Both sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. NBCSN also has a delayed qualifying telecast airing at 6:30 p.m.

Sunday’s 85-lap race airs live on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 3 p.m. An encore race telecast starts at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.

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