Takuma Sato

TORONTO – The streets of Exhibition Place have gotten faster. Four Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, led by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato, turned laps in Saturday morning practice under the track record for the current Honda Indy Toronto layout.

In the last session prior to Verizon P1 Award qualifying in the afternoon, Sato toured the 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary street course in 58.6777 seconds (109.575 mph). The present track configuration was first used last year, when Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud set the lap record of 58.9124 seconds (109.138 mph) in the final round of qualifications.

HONDA INDY TORONTO: Practice 3 results; Combined practice results; Round 1 qualifying groups

Official INDYCAR track records may only be established during qualifying or race sessions.

Sato, in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda, credited the 2018 Indy car’s universal aero kit and recent repaving of portions of the track for the swift laps.

Matheus 'Matt' Leist“It’s a bit of both,” said Sato, the 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner. “The repave certainly helped; especially for the entry to Turn 9, there’s a lot more grip. From Turn 11 in the last corner to Turn 1 braking is a significant improvement.

“The (Firestone) tires, in combination with the new aero kit, there’s 1,000 pounds of less downforce than last year (so) you get a lot less drag. The aero efficiencies are pretty good. Particularly for this track, it’s working well. Because you have a better mechanical grip this year, certainly it covers what we lost in the downforce. That’s why the lap times are faster.”

Also turning laps under Pagenaud’s standard were: Josef Newgarden in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (58.7750 seconds), Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (58.8758) and Alexander Rossi in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda (58.8997). All 23 drivers in the field ran their fastest laps of the weekend in the 45-minute session.

Saturday’s practice showed a turnaround for Chevrolet, which had been locked out of the top five spots in the first two practices by engine rival Honda. With Spencer Pigot placing fifth in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, the bowtie brigade took three of the top five positions in the last practice.

The practice ended a minute early for a red flag caused when Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie Robert Wickens slid into the Turn 8 tire barrier in the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda. Newgarden, veering to avoid Wickens, also made left-side contact with the same tire barrier. Neither driver was injured and both cars sustained slight damage.

Verizon P1 Award qualifying to determine the Honda Indy Toronto pole sitter starts at 1:55 p.m. ET and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app. A same-day telecast airs at 5 p.m. on NBCSN.

Coverage of 85-lap race, the 34th Indy car race on the streets of Exhibition Place dating to 1986, begins at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.