Pagenaud claims pole; Bourdais, Sato scuffle

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TORONTO — Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud will start from the pole for the IndyCar race through the streets of Toronto.

Pagenaud has been on a tear around Exhibition Place all weekend, as his Team Penske Chevrolet has been consistently fast, and he paced Saturday morning’s final practice on the 11-turn, 1.786-mile street course. Then he took pole in qualifying, edging out reigning series champion Scott Dixon for the top starting spot in Sunday’s race.

“This is the best you can feel in racing, when you achieve what you expect,” said Pagenaud, who won the Indy 500 in May from the pole.

The day got off to a hot start when Takuma Sato confronted Sebastien Bourdais after the morning practice session. Bourdais was still in his cockpit when Sato approached and appeared to grab the Frenchman by the collar of his firesuit. Bourdais climbed out of his car swinging, and a team representative tried to separate the two drivers. The scuffle continued another few seconds.

Bourdais later said Sato seemed to overreact to an on-track pass.

“I passed him on the out-lap. … I’m not sure it deserved that kind of reaction, but it doesn’t matter,” Bourdais said. “If there was anything, I’m the one who should be pretty [mad]. He pretty much ruined our race in Texas from three laps down and blocked us the last three stints. I’ve never asked him for anything. We know he races hard, but with that little incident, I’m not so sure what should happen to him.”

Sato later said of his emotions “I’m cool” and that the scuffle was triggered by Bourdais, who Sato thought was aggressive on track and then blew up in their confrontation.

“He was excited. It wasn’t me,” Sato said. “Passing me was absolutely pointless. It was just one lap. He went blasting by me and then turned into Josef Newgarden. What was the point?”

Dixon said after qualifying that he has been bothered almost a month with tennis elbow — an inflammation of the tendons in the elbow — from working in the simulator. The discomfort has been problematic on Toronto’s rough street circuit.

“It’s been a bit of a nightmare,” Dixon said. “I got it the week of Texas, and then I had it all the way through at Le Mans, and then at Road America it was really bad in the race. So we’ve been trying to do some therapy with it, but tennis elbow, there’s no easy fix. It might be an offseason project. We’ll see.”

Dixon teammate Felix Rosenqvist qualified third for Chip Ganassi Racing, followed by Indy 500 runner-up Alexander Rossi for Andretti Autosport as Honda drivers took spots 2 through 4.

IndyCar points leader Newgarden qualified fifth, followed by Ed Jones.

Marco Andretti, Bourdais, Spencer Pigot and Sato qualified seventh through 10th.

The IndyCar championship is currently between Newgarden and Rossi, who are separated by seven points headed into Sunday. But Pagenaud is not out of the fight and is ranked third, 61 points behind teammate Newgarden and 33 points ahead of Dixon in fourth place.

In a contract year with Penske and aware of rumors that Rossi was set to replace him on IndyCar’s top team, Pagenaud has flipped a switch since May, when he swept both races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and earned a promise from Roger Penske that his contract would be renewed. But Pagenaud’s success has been limited to Indy, as the Frenchman doesn’t have another top-5 finish this season. His average finishing position in the eight races outside of Indianapolis is 9.88.

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