Saavedra works to get up to speed in Toronto opening practice

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TORONTO – Sebastian Saavedra hasn’t driven an Indy car on a street course in more than two years, so he has some quick catching up to do at the Honda Indy Toronto.

Saavedra was named Thursday to drive the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda for this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series event on the streets of Exhibition Place. Without any preparation, the 27-year-old Colombian hopped into the car for this morning’s opening practice and logged 27 important laps on the 1.786-mile temporary street course.

HONDA INDY TORONTO: Practice 1 results

Saavedra is a veteran of 62 Verizon IndyCar Series races since 2010, including this year's Indianapolis 500. His last street-course race came at Toronto in June 2015, but the circuit has been reconfigured since, with pit lane moved to the outside of the track and the Turns 9-11 complex redesigned. Saavedra was pleased with his initial practice, which found him last of the 21 cars on the time sheet with a best lap of 1 minute, 3.9240 seconds (100.582 mph).

“It went well. Very excited to be part of the Schmidt Peterson organization," Saavedra said. "Of course, it’s a little bit of a last-minute scenario, which leaves very little time to prepare. 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.”

Saavedra is replacing Mikhail Aleshin in the No. 7 Honda this weekend. The team has not disclosed who the driver will be after Sunday's race. In the meantime, Saavedra is teamed with hometown favorite James Hinchcliffe for the Toronto weekend and looking forward to sharing data.

“We made the improvements as they needed to come (in opening practice),” Saavedra said, “but (I'm) looking forward to sitting down with Hinch and having a good comparison to move into the next session.”

Team Penske owned the top three spots in the first practice, led by Helio Castroneves. The winner of last weekend’s Iowa Corn 300 turned a best lap of 1:01.1211 (105.194 mph) in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Second belonged to Josef Newgarden in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet (1:01.5098) and third went to Simon Pagenaud in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevy (1:01.5445). Points leader Scott Dixon was fourth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing (1:01.7040).

Another 45-minute practice session starts at 2:15 p.m. ET today, followed by pit stop practice at 3:05 p.m. Both sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com and Saavedra is eager for the track time to get better acquainted with the updated layout.

“The track is much different, to be honest,” he said. “I was not expecting it to be this tight and this technical. It took me a while to get around it. I think I feel now a lot more comfortable.”

Three rounds of knockout qualifying, climaxed by the Firestone Fast Six, begin at 2:15 p.m. ET Saturday (live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com), with a delayed NBCSN telecast at 6:30 p.m. Sunday’s 85-lap race airs live at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with an encore showing at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.

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