TORONTO – So far, Simon Pagenaud is having his best weekend as an NTT IndyCar Series driver since his spectacular Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That is when the Team Penske driver won the IndyCar Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 Pole and the 103rd Indianapolis 500.
Pagenaud has been the fastest driver in every practice session on the slick, 11-turn, 1.786-mile street course at Toronto’s Exhibition Place. He continued that trend Saturday by winning the pole for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.
Pagenaud scored the 12thpole of his career and the second NTT P1 Award of the season Saturday with a fast time of 58.4293 seconds for a speed of 110.041 mph in the No. 22 Chevrolet.
“The DXC Technology car has been phenomenal all weekend, and it was a matter of just extracting the best out of it, getting the tires going, putting myself in a good rhythm,” Pagenaud said. “We had pace all weekend. We had a bit of a margin on everybody all weekend, but at the end qualifying, everybody goes out to the maximum limit, so obviously the lap time gets closer and closer and closer.
“It’s very difficult to actually qualify, going through the qualifying segment being so far back in pit lane because you can’t get your temperature in the tires because everybody is backing up. I was really striving to just transfer and get enough heat in the tires in Q1 and Q2 there, finished my lap behind Sato in Q2 and luckily, we transferred, but then once I was in the Fast Six, I knew we had the car. We didn’t need to make any changes, and it was super-fast.
“The last lap was definitely a little bit here, there, everywhere to try to extract the maximum amount out of the tires, and the engine was purring really well down the lake shore, and quite frankly it was one of my best laps in qualifying.”
Pagenaud has excelled this weekend by having a car that has been very consistent on the variety of track surfaces on the bumpy street course.
“One thing I explained this weekend is I was trying to get a car that’s versatile, that can be good on different asphalt, that can be predictable for me to attack and trust, and that’s really what it’s giving me this weekend,” he said. “That’s why you see me being so confident and being able to put laps down like I’m doing.
“It’s honestly a pleasure to drive this weekend. I’m having the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time. Actually, no, I had just as much fun in Indy. So, it’s great to be in that kind of zone.”
Defending Toronto winner Scott Dixon was second fastest at 58.5948 (109.730 mph) in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.
“Congrats to (Simon) Pagenaud,” Dixon said. “He’s been quick all weekend. The starting spot last year was good for us. We were able to go on for the win, but as we can see the competition is extremely tight this weekend.”
Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, rookie Felix Rosenqvist, was third quick at 58.6793 (109.572 mph) in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda followed by Alexander Rossi’s 58.9215 (109.121 mph) in the No. 27 NAPA Honda.
NTT IndyCar Series championship leader Josef Newgarden was fifth at 59.3103 (108.406 mph) in the No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet with Ed Jones rounding out the Fast Six at 59.5353 (107.996 mph).
Newgarden has a seven-point lead over Rossi in the NTT IndyCar Series standings entering the race.
“I went for it in the Fast Six,” Newgarden said. “I knew it was going to take a big lap and I just went for it. I was really aggressive in Turn 11 and got into the wall and bent the toe link. I went for it and tried to make it happen. Our Hitachi Chevrolet has been fast all weekend, it’s just been difficult to get clean runs. Simon (Pagenaud) did a great job, he’s been fast all weekend.
“We got a good starting spot. The top six is where you need to be, so now we can race. I think our race car is good. I just don’t have enough data yet. It’s good we have a warmup. That will help us. Just how strong are we going to be?
“I just don’t know yet.”
The stunner came when Team Penske’s pole ace Will Power failed to advance out of his first qualifying group. He’ll start 15th in the 22-car field that takes the green flag Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
“I’ve had a bit of a rough weekend so far,” Power said. “We’ve taken some big swings in setup. We just didn’t get it today. I had some bad shifts on the lap that would have got us through. We just weren’t good enough. I think I lost a little confidence when I spun in the first practice there in 11. We are just a ways off. If there are yellows, we can make up the positions.
“We are hoping for one of those races tomorrow.”