Patrick knows qualifying is key at Toronto

Posted July 07, 2011, at 8:41 p.m.
Last modified July 07, 2011, at 9:15 p.m.

TORONTO — Danica Patrick would rather not hear about racing in the shadow of her team owner at the Honda Indy Toronto.

She doesn’t want to know about Michael Andretti’s seven wins on the road course around Exhibition Place, where she has yet to crack the podium.

“Good for him,” said Patrick, who will instead be looking to improve on her two career sixth-place finishes in this race. “Obviously he hasn’t translated it into seven wins for me.

“I think just because Michael’s won here a bunch doesn’t mean (the team’s) going to win here a bunch. Everybody’s a different driver and everybody prefers different things in their car. It’s a different team, different resources, it’s a different time.”

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Expectations will always be high for Patrick, the IndyCar Series’ most recognizable driver despite having just one career win on the circuit.

Toronto could be the race where the 29-year-old driver makes a breakthrough.

In Patrick’s first attempt on the road course, she started 18th and moved up 12 spots. Last year she started 12th before improving six places at the finish line.

Patrick knows her performance Saturday in qualifying, which she describes as a weakness even after a second-place start at the Iowa Corn Indy 250 last week, will go a long way toward determining how she fares in Sunday’s race.

“Qualifying I think is the biggest point,” she said, “and then beyond that obviously when you improve by a thousand or so positions in the race, obviously you’re doing something right in the race so I just need to qualify higher.”

Andretti Autosport is flying high after Marco Andretti — the owner’s son — won at Iowa last week. It was the team’s second victory of the season after Mike Conway finished first at Long Beach in April.

With points leader Dario Franchitti and defending Toronto champion Will Power engaged in what appears to be a two-driver race for the series’ title, Patrick and her team will focus on individual performances as the second half of the season begins.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, one of Patrick’s teammates, could be one to watch in Toronto, where he finished third last year after starting fourth.

He pointed to the straightaway that gives drivers hope for winning the race.

“As long as you start in the top 10, you feel like you have an opportunity of winning without a crazy fuel-strategy race,” he said.

Even Patrick, who in the past has been vocal about her preference for ovals over road courses, said she enjoys the setup in Toronto.

“I believe that this is probably our best road course race of the year,” she said.

While Patrick may try to figure out the Toronto layout herself, Hunter-Reay has no problem going to Andretti for advice.

“I was trying to pry that out of him last year,” Hunter-Reay said. “ ‘Give me the secrets around this place.’ And he did, he helped with a few things there.

“You definitely gotta go ask him for it, but he’ll absolutely let you know what his bits are, and when Michael talks you definitely listen. He knows his way around Toronto.”

NASCAR notes

SPARTA, Ky. — NASCAR officials don’t expect the introduction of electronic fuel injection to revolutionize the series.

Then again, that’s not the point. After decades using carburetors — long since abandoned by automakers for mass produced vehicles — the move to fuel injection in 2012 allows the series to get in step with the times.

“It’s a huge step for our sport to make the cars relevant with what’s on the street,” driver Kevin Harvick said. “It’s huge for the manufacturers to have that.”

All four of the Sprint Cup car manufacturers — Toyota, Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge — underwent extensive on-track testing Thursday at Kentucky Speedway. While there were some minor issues, engineers and drivers believe the technology should be well under control when it debuts at Daytona next February.

“Everything ran pretty smooth and the motor is really smooth,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who test-drove Ford’s fuel injection car on Thursday. “We wanted to run some laps out there and make sure things were running good. So far so good on that. It has got some speed also.”

Stenhouse averaged 176.171 mph during the second test session practice on Thursday, good enough for 16th out of the 52 cars that went out on the track.

The fuel injection delivers an even flow of gas to the engine, something that carburetors couldn’t always do. The sensors in the engine will regulate the fuel intake and make sure it is dispersed properly and also allow officials to better police how teams power their engines.

The system, developed by McLaren Electronic Systems and Freescale Semiconductor, can be costly. Teams are expected to pay about $26,000 per car, though NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton called it a necessary step for the series and that all teams are on board.

“Anytime you have a rule change, there’s upfront costs,” he said. “It’s something we need to do. We need to do it for our sport, for our competition.”

Penske Racing director of competition Travis Geisler estimates the team will purchase about a dozen units to get prepared for 2012.

“It’s not a cheap endeavor,” he said, noting teams will also have to make personnel adjustments to deal with the new technology.

The new system will also provide better fuel mileage for cars, a significant development for a sport where sometimes the winner isn’t the fastest car but the one that manages to squeeze an extra drop or two of fuel to get to the finish. And while it is designed to further level the playing field, engineers believe there is enough wiggle room to find an edge.

“We are actually quite happy with the system because it has considerable room for invention, for science,” said Andrew Randolph, who is working on the project for Earnhardt Childress Racing. “Certainly there is room for people to do it better than other people. We would like to think that whenever we have an opportunity to excel, then that is what we will do.”

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