Kirkwood rolls with the bumps to lead opening Toronto IndyCar practice

#27: Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport Honda
#27: Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport Honda

Bumps and track evolution were the centerpiece of Friday’s opening practice session for the NTT IndyCar Series on the streets of Toronto.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Armstrong was the early pacesetter with a 1m03.5s lap around the 1.8-mile circuit, and with 75 minutes made available to teams and drivers to adapt to the bone-jarring course and its increasingly severe surface, Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood lowered the best lap to a 1m01.8 on Firestone’s primary tires.

Once the field switched to the faster green-banded alternate rubber in the final 15 minutes of the lone outing for the day, Kirkwood fired in the top lap of the session with a remarkable 1m00.8075s tour in the No. 27 Honda to lead a strong 1-2 for Andretti with Romain Grosjean’s No. 28 Honda close behind (+0.05s).

Welcome back to the Streets of Toronto, @KKirkwoodRacing. #INDYCAR // #IndyTO pic.twitter.com/J5SAGsgmL8

— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) July 14, 2023

Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist broke up the Andretti party in third with the No. 6 Chevy (+0.0532s) and had Colton Herta in his shadow with the No. 26 Andretti Honda in fourth (+0.1060s). McLaren’s Alexander Rossi was next in the No. 7 Honda (+0.1625s), and in sixth, CGR’s Marcus Ericsson led the team home in the No. 8 Honda (+0.1865s).

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Outside the lead group, Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott was quick to open the event after running 13th in the No. 77 Chevy (+0.8053s). Meyer Shank Racing’s Helio Castroneves also ran well in 14th with the No. 06 Honda (+0.8166s), and in 16th Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal was once again the fastest among RLL’s trio in his No. 15 Honda (+0.8908s); teammate Christian Lundgaard was directly behind him in the No. 45 Honda (+0.8921s).

Ed Carpenter Racing’s Ryan Hunter-Reay closed the session as the fastest intrasquad driver with the No. 20 Chevy which ran 18th (+1.046s); teammate Rinus VeeKay was 23rd in the No. 21 Chevy (+1.7794s).

Whole lot of new today for @tom_blomqvist. #INDYCAR // #IndyTO pic.twitter.com/OVoBU7J4Fl

— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) July 14, 2023

Series newcomer Tom Blomqvist was the busiest driver on the day as he turned 39 laps in the No. 60 MSR Honda in a substitute role for MSR’s injured Simon Pagenaud. Lacking the opportunity to learn the track on a simulator before his last-minute call-up, Blomqvist was wise to tread carefully around the circuit and returned the car in one piece. To his delight, he wasn’t the slowest driver in the field, earning 26th (+2.9904s) among the 27 entries in attendance.

“I just wanted to take it easy to get an understanding of the car and the track,” Blomqvist said. “It took a while to get your head around it, but yeah, I just wanted to build up to get through today.”

Barring a flick-spin or two by drivers to get themselves out of a runoff area and a few light brushes with the walls, the session was largely free of drama as no yellow or red flags slowed the action.

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