Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR

Friday IndyCar Musings: Toronto

By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer

TORONTO — Friday has come and gone for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series’s annual visit north of the border for the Honda Indy Toronto and if the practice sheets are any indication, Honda will be tough to beat around the 1.786 mile street circuit.

Honda-powered cars took the top six positions in the opening practice session and the top five positions in the second practice session with Scott Dixon leading both sessions. Will Power was the fastest Chevrolet in the first session, Spencer Pigot was the fastest Chevrolet in the second session.

Several drivers made improvements to their best laps during the day but probably the most impressive gain was by Rene Binder. The Austrian’s best lap time fell by almost two full seconds from a 1 minute, 2.4772 seconds to 1 minute, 0.5712 seconds. He went from 23rd (last) on the time sheet to 20th while Conor Daly went from 20th to 17th. It was a good job for the Harding Racing newcomer as Daly was only announced on Tuesday as having the drive.

Overall, the theme of the weekend is going to be Chevrolet trying to claw its way out of a hole. Honda has won every street circuit race so far this season with Sebastien Bourdais winning St. Petersburg, Alexander Rossi winning Long Beach and Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay splitting the Detroit doubleheader.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports also has a bit of a mountain to climb as James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens had less than stellar practices. In the first session, Wickens was 11th while Hinchcliffe was 18th fastest and in the afternoon it was Hinchcliffe in tenth position while Wickens was in 13th. Given how Wickens’s season has gone so far, one would think that he would be closer to the top of the time sheet. However, Wickens has time to move higher up.

Speaking of newer IndyCar drivers, it was great to see Jack Harvey in the IndyCar paddock working with Pabst Racing. Harvey will be racing at Mid-Ohio, Portland and Sonoma. He’s looking at trying to do more races next year with Shank’s operation as they forge their way in the IndyCar world and hopefully it’ll happen.

Moving down to Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, Victor Franzoni topped the only practice session for the top step of the Mazda Road to Indy with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 5.3271 seconds. Santi Urrutia was second ahead of Pato O’Ward.

In Pro Mazda, there was a practice session and qualifying for both races. In the morning practice, Rinus VeeKay was fastest over Sting Ray Robb and Canadian Parker Thompson. In qualifying for the first race, VeeKay led ahead of recent Pro Mazda race winner David Malukas with Thompson in third. However, race two qualifying had a bit more of a mixup with Thompson not setting a lap time at all because of mechanical failure and VeeKay and Malukas setting fastest laps again in qualifying to repeat their front row performance.

The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda had perhaps the most interesting day in the Mazda Road to Indy. Kyle Kirkwood was fastest in the opening practice session ahead of Calvin Ming and Igor Fraga but qualifying is where the fun began.

The USF2000 and Pro Mazda drivers took part in a drivers only meeting to address Road America but USF2000 had a bit of a chaotic result to qualifying for the first race of the weekend. Lucas Kohl and Fraga both caused red flags in qualifying and lost their fastest times. Meanwhile, 11 other cars fell foul of the rule that states that a driver must reduce his speed by at least 15 percent in a yellow flag zone. That left Dakota Dickerson to claim his first USF2000 pole ahead of Kaylen Frederick while Kirkwood was third.

It’s puzzling to think that so many drivers would fall afoul of that rule but part of the learning process is to make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes are costly. However, the good news about these mistakes is that they don’t fiscally impact the teams except when you lose pole position. Dickerson did get a $1,000 check for that.

For Saturday, IndyCar practice begins at 9:50 a.m. ET with qualifying starting at 1:55 p.m. ET. Indy Lights has race one qualifying at 8:35 a.m. ET with their first race at 12:40 p.m. ET. Pro Mazda has their first race of the weekend at 10:50 a.m. ET while USF2000 has second race qualifying at 8:00 a.m. and their first race of the weekend at 11:45 a.m. ET.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.