Don’t forget about Simon Pagenaud.
That was the statement made by the French driver after he set the fastest practice time Friday at the Honda Indy Toronto.
Pagenaud clocked one minute 00.0084 seconds at the 11-turn, 2.81-kilometre street course at Exhibition Place.
IndyCar points leader Helio Castroneves was second in 1:00.0218 while Scott Dixon followed in 1:00.0769. Will Power, second overall in the standings, finished fourth while James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., trailed in fifth.
Pagenaud enters the weekend doubleheader fourth in the standings, 50 points behind Castroneves with two wins and one pole.
His practice times were cause for optimism for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after Pagenaud finished ninth and 12th in both Toronto races last year.
“I think last year we had a lot of issues with our brakes,” said Pagenaud. “It was a difficult weekend, we really never, never had a proper run. It was a nightmare. It was inside, in-house that we needed to do some work.
“We ironed all those details and I think now we have a very different approach, obviously we go to each race with the will to win. Which is very different, we had the will before but we didn’t believe truly that we could do it. Now we do.”
Pagenaud will get the benefit of the doubt after the afternoon practice was cut short by a pair of red flags that may have prevented better times. Castroneves caused a long delay after stopping on track with an electrical issue, and the session later ended under another flag when Ryan Briscoe stalled on track.
Josef Newgarden had the fastest time in the morning practice. He finished 13th in the afternoon.
Pagenaud’s pace shouldn’t be a surprise even if the 30-year-old is flying under the radar in the IndyCar championship race.
He finished third overall last year and has plenty of time to make a move with six races remaining ahead of the season finale at Fontana on Aug. 30.
“In my position, and that’s the way I think things, you could put pressure on yourself if you want to but what’s the point? What’s going to happen is I’m either going to win the championship or I’m not going to win it,” said Pagenaud.
“So the goal is obviously to win and I’m going to focus as hard as I can on my stuff. My car is fast, has been fast lately, and we’re in good shape to do it. Now we need to execute, and that’s the most important.”
Hinchcliffe’s day meanwhile, got off to rocky start with his car suffering from a cooling problem that delayed his session. The issue became moot when he finally got on track — he briefly had the fastest time and finished third in the morning.
“(The car) is a handful,” said Hinchcliffe. “This track is always such a challenge for us set-up wise, and we’re seeing that again here today even though we’re less than a tenth off the pace. It’s hard work out there trying to get that (fast lap).”