July 6, 2012
Franchitti fastest at Toronto Indy practice
By DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The IZOD IndyCar Series rolled into town this week with new cars and a flock of new drivers and was met with new pavement on the fastest part of the Honda Indy Toronto temporary street course.
But Friday proved that the old saying “the more things change, the more things stay the same” still holds true after three-time Toronto winner Dario Franchitti topped the speed charts in both morning and afternoon practice sessions at Exhibition Place.
Franchitti — a winner on the streets of Toronto in 1999, 2009 and 2011 — drove his No. 10 Target Ganassi Racing Honda around the 2.824-km, 11-turn course in one minute .278 seconds.
“It is always good to come back to a place where you have had success,” the 39-year-old native of Edinburgh, Scotland, said.
He said that the new pavement that was laid down on the long Lake Shore Blvd. straightaway this past spring was both a surprise and a boost.
“Lake Shore is now like a table,” Franchitti said. “For years I have been going down there and it was so bumpy you could hardly see where you were going and now you go down there and it is billiard-table smooth.
“It is so great to be able to go down that stretch without being bumped all over the place.”
He said the veteran IndyCar drivers like himself had lobbied both the city and the race promoter to get Lake Shore fixed.
“We have been asking for it for a long time,” he said.
Franchitti said the changes on Lake Shore weren’t enough to alter Toronto’s reputation of being one of the toughest street courses in the racing world.
“There is enough of rough bits on the rest of the track that it is still the old Toronto — surface changes, lots of bumps,” he said. “It still has character.”
French driver Simon Pagenaud was second fastest Friday in the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports Honda with a lap of 1:00.3904, with Franchitti teammate Scott Dixon third at 1:00.5423 in the No. 9 Honda.
Things did not go as well for the two Canadian drivers on Friday.
Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe managed to get through the morning practice — his fastest lap was 1:01.7253 — but his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet was found to be leaking water out the exhaust prior to the afternoon session so it was decided to change the engine ahead of Saturday’s qualifying session.
That will result in a 10-spot penalty on Sunday for the local favourite .
“Today is a day to forget, really,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s too bad because with the first session not going too smoothly we were really looking to make some gains.
“It’s just putting us on the back foot — not only with setting the car up but with the engine penalty as well. Certainly it makes it more a challenging weekend than we wanted, but at the end of the day it’s still possible for the Go Daddy car to move forward.
“The last time we got an engine penalty we were able to come back and finished on the podium ... so we may be down but we’re certainly not out.”
And Montreal’s Alex Tagliani had brake issues in the first session that resulted in the No. 98 Barracuda/Bryan Herta Autosports Honda sliding into the tire wall in Turn 8.
The team was able to get the car back on track for the second session and posted the 11th- fastest lap at 1:00.9297.
“I made a mistake,” Tagliani said. “But the team is feeling good because on the final lap of the second session we had our fastest lap of the day.”
Tagliani, like Hinchcliffe, also faces a 10-spot penalty after his team changed engines prior to coming to Toronto.
The day was also an adventure for Justin Wilson, a former winner on the Toronto track, who was involved in a pit-lane accident that injured four crewman and then twice — in each of Friday’s two practice sessions — put his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Dallara Honda into the tire wall in Turn 8.
Simona de Silvestro, the lone female racer in Sunday’s IndyCar Series race, was 20th fastest Friday in practice with a new Lotus engine on a lap of 1:01.1471. ... NASCAR Canadian Tire Series driver J.R. Fitzpatrick has a new management team. The 23-yearold from Cambridge signed a deal with 21 Sports Management.
TOP 20 AFTER FIRST DAY OF TORONTO INDY