TORONTO -- Dario Franchitti came away from the 2011 Honda Indy Toronto with a 55-point lead over Will Power in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship standings, which was a determining factor in securing his third consecutive title.
Sitting eighth in the title chase entering the 85-lap race July 8 on the 1.75-mile, 11-turn circuit -- 70 points behind front-runner Power -- the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion could use another win.
Franchitti had a positive start to the race weekend at Exhibition Place, topping the first day of practice with a lap of 1:00.2786 (104.813 mph). Rookie Simon Pagenaud was second quick (1:00.3904) in the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car. Franchitti's Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon, who was runner-up in the race last July, was third at 1:00.5423.
Click it: Honda Indy Toronto combined practice results
The top 21 cars, including Power in seventh place, were separated by 1 second. Practice (9:45 a.m. ET) and the three rounds of qualifications (1 p.m. ET) are scheduled for July 7.
"I hope being fast in both the morning and afternoon session is good for tomorrow," said Franchitti, who has won the race two of the past three years. "Scott and I have been going in two different on set-up and 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.
"Typical Toronto, it’s as challenging as ever – from concrete to asphalt, smooth to bumps and areas with no grip. For day one we are happy with the Target car and we’ll make some changes to go faster tomorrow and try to stay up front."
Justin Wilson, the 2010 pole sitter, was fourth on the time chart (1:00.6485) in the No. 18 Sonny's BBQ car for Dale Coyne Racing and Ryan Briscoe (1:00.6936) was fifth in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske entry.
Wilson was involved in a pit lane incident early in the morning session when his car "refused to go into neutral" and slid into the No. 7 Dragon Racing car of Sebastien Bourdais.
Crew members Michael Cole of Dale Coyne Racing and Daniel Martin of Dragon Racing were treated and released from the infield care center. Raffi Aroyan of Dragon Racing was transported to St. Michael's Hospital for further evaluation, which revealed no injuries. Chuck Homan of Dragon Racing was treated at St. Michael's Hospital and released.
"I was stuck in first, I couldn’t get neutral, and, on top of that, these carbon brakes don’t work when they’re cold, so I was hard on the brakes and I couldn’t stop," Wilson said. :"At the last second I tried to dive into the wall to take speed off, but those guys were there and had no idea I was coming and even diving to the wall I still hit them."
James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ontario, did not participate in the afternoon session because of a mechanical issue with the No. 27 GoDaddy.com car. The Andretti Autosport team will replace the Chevrolet engine, which will result in a 10-grid spot penalty for the July 8 race.
"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," said Hinchcliffe, who is fifth in the standings. "Last time we got an engine penalty we were able to come back and finished on the podium (Long Beach) … so we may be down but we’re certainly not out.”
Quebec native Alex Tagliani, driving the No. 98 Team Barracuda-BHA car, also will incur a 10-grid spot penalty as the team chose to install its fourth fresh Honda engine of the season instead of refitting its Indianapolis 500 practice/qualifying engine after meeting the mileage limit of its Indianapolis 500 race engine (Rule 15.5.4.b violation). The No. 78 Lotus-HVM Racing car driven by Simona de Silvestro will receive a grid penalty because the team changed out the engine before it reached its mileage limit defined in Rule 15.5.1.