Franchitti Leads Both Toronto INDYCAR Practice Sessions

Franchitti was quickest in both practice sessions on Friday - IZOD IndyCar Series LAT USA photo

Franchitti was quickest in both practice sessions on Friday - IZOD IndyCar Series LAT USA photo

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The Honda Indy Toronto street course is one of Dario Franchitti's favorite tracks.

The four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion has three wins and three poles on the circuit at Exhibition Place, and is the defending winner from last year's rancid contest--where he tangled with perennial championship contender Will Power.

Today Franchitti topped the first day of practice with a time of 60.279 seconds at 104.813 mph as he works to erase a massive deficit to Power, currently leading the standings.

It's been a hot and sunny day in Toronto, where sections of the 1.75-mile, 11-corner circuit have been repaved between turns 2 and 3, at the apex of 3, 7,8 and 9--a much needed improvement. Rather than making patches, the organizers decided to look for a more consistent surface, which met with praise from the IndyCar drivers.

"I hope being fast in both morning and afternoon sessions is good for tomorrow," Franchitti said tongue-in-cheek. "I ran two different set-ups and both were pretty good so I am not sure what direction we'll go with set-up tomorrow. It's always good to race here. We'll just put the best car we can on the track and hope to run up front."

Franchitti's Target Ganassi Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car led both sessions and Simon Pagenaud's Honda-powered Schmidt Hamilton Racing car was second at 60.390 seconds (105.619 mph), just 0.118 behind Franchitti. He was third in the first practice session, so Pagenaud's speed isn't terribly unexpected. Scott Dixon's Target Honda finished third on the day, after being second in the first practice session.

Pagenaud's team "went off what we had in Detroit and it's a good surprise that it's working well. It's a nice track here; it's difficult because there's so many tarmac changes but it's tricky for us drivers--it's actually good exercise," he said. Dixon found "traffic our biggest problem. We actually should have been fastest around lap five, but that's traffic--and traffic is Toronto."

One guy who had nothing but trouble and still rebounded with good speed was Texas winner Justin Wilson, who couldn't find neutral when he came into the pits after his morning installation lap and hit some of his own Dale Coyne Racing crew as well as crew from Sebastien Bourdais' Dragon Racing group as he slid into them. He later impacted the turn 8 wall but still finished the day in fourth place!

After the entire, 25-car entry turned 741 laps for the day, Ryan Briscoe was fifth with his two Chevy-powered Team Penske teammates behind him, Helio Castroneves leading seventh-ranked Power. Mike Conway was eighth for AJ Foyt Enterprises (Honda), while Ryan Hunter-Reay (Chevy) and Takuma Sato (Honda) rounded out the top 10. You had to go back to 14th place (James Jakes) to find a one-second separation on the field.

It was a difficult day for local hero James Hinchcliffe, whose Chevy engine expired--he'll have a 10-spot penalty when the cars line up on Sunday for their 85-lap contest. Even worse was rookie Josef Newgarden, who never made a lap of the track, suffering from a fuel cell problem. Only two drivers used their practice 1 times as their best--EJ Viso and Hinchcliffe and both were well down the order. Ed Carpenter was the slowest car on the track in the afternoon session.

All drivers were able to test the new push-to-pass today but not too many had the opportunity to try out the concept in traffic and make a true pass on the competition, and the option isn't available for practice on Saturday or for qualifying, so that will amount to another unknown quantity for Sunday's race.

After a day with sunshine and heat, the weather prognosticators are talking about rain on Saturday for Firestone Fast Six knockout qualifying. This could throw another wrinkle into preparations for this race, as clear weather is forecast for race day.

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