Verizon IndyCar driver, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Team Penske Chevrolet, took the Verizon P1 Pole Award Saturday afternoon at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The veteran driver set a new qualifying track record of 1:06.2254, breaking his 2015 qualifying track record of 1:06.6294, and the earlier record of 1:06.2285 set in Round Two by Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
This was Castroneves’ third consecutive and fourth overall pole at Long Beach and 48th pole overall, fourth on the all-time list, and only one behind Bobby Unser. Team Penske has won 12 pole positions at Long Beach, and 247 in IndyCar.
He said “Today is extra special because Long Beach is a great place. I remember winning here from the pole in 2001 and, the last two years, we were right there. We’re not going to let this escape again.”
Second through sixth in the Fast Six aka final Round of Qualifying were: Dixon; Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda; James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda; and Graham Rahal/No.15 PennGrade Motor Oil Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.
Castroneves’ explanation for doing so well: “It’s those kids. They keep coming in trying to steal my thunder. This qualifying says something about this competition in the paddock, it is so incredible. Plus every time you go out for a session, it’s something different. The track changes, the tires change, there is traffic, something. It is absolutely very different. It is a crucial time. Everyone is within hundredths of a second.”
The age range in the Fast Six ranged from sophomore IndyCar driver, Rossi at 25 years to elder statesman, Castroneves at 42. Actually the youngest in the IndyCar paddock is Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda, at 22 years of age. He won last year’s Indy Lights Championship. Rossi said “It was a really good day. It was the NAPA Racing team’s first (Firestone) Fast Six appearance, which is a huge turn around for Andretti Autosport and Honda from last year. I don’t think we maximized all our practice potential, so it was nice to put it out there today in qualifying. The NAPA Auto Parts car has been strong all weekend and now we can look forward to tomorrow.”
The Firestone Fast Six round of Qualifying aka Round Three, was particularly cliff-hanging, as several of the six drivers held off going out until the two minute mark in the ten-minute session. And all afternoon the field was tightly compressed, from top to bottom.
After Round Two, Dixon set a new qualifying track record of 1:06.2285. All 12 of the Round Two drivers dropped into the 1:06’s; and eleven were faster than Castroneves’ 2015 qualifying record. The Round Two dropouts were: Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; Josef Newgarden/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; Marco Andretti/No.27 United Data & Fiber Andretti Autosport Honda; Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Trench Shoring Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
Andretti thought he was in the Drift Competition as he slid through a corner that had already caught out cars in other events. He said afterwards “We lucked out on transferring into Round 2 – I had a huge moment there and were lucky to not come back on the hook. So, we were lucky to transfer and missed the Firestone Fast Six by half-a-tenth (of a second). To qualify the UFD car 10th and miss Round 3 by half a tenth, it shows you what Indy car racing is all about – it’s super tight. Every hundreth (of a second) counts and it’s going to make for a great race tomorrow.”
Not making the cut, time wise, in Round One Group Two were: Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber & Data Andretti Autosport Honda; Carlos Munoz/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet; Mikhail Aleshin/No.7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda; and Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
In that session Pagenaud turned the fastest lap of the weekend (thus far) – 1:06.5026, but it didn’t stick. The Stewards reviewed the incident between Pagenaud and his Penske teammate, Castroneves, and assessed a penalty of losing his two best timed laps for qualifying interference. Pagenaud said that he agreed with the ruling and it wasn’t his job to change the rules. But he explained “It was just one of those unfortunate things. I understand the penalty because I interfered with (Helio) Castroneves’ lap. I backed up a little to set up a second lap on the (alternate tires) and Helio was right there. I was boxed in; there was nothing I could do.”
Three drivers made it down to the 1:06’s in Group Two Round One, first time this weekend. The Pagenaud Penalty moved up Andretti.
Dropping out after Round One Group One were: Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda; JR Hildebrand/No.21 Preferred Freezer Service Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet; Conor Daly/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Honda; and Spencer Pigot/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. All drivers were in the 1:07’s. The Stewards reviewed the contact between Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and Hinchcliffe, and took no action.
Hinchcliffe suffered from gearbox problems in morning practice, but the car was better for Qualifying and the Fast Six. “We rolled off the truck with a pretty decent car. In these weekends when it’s so tight, the track time is so limited, that’s huge. Yesterday afternoon, we had a little bit of problems. This morning we had a couple problems but we didn’t panic. Huge credit to Schmidt Peterson Motorsport. Two Firestone Fast Six appearances for two, which is great. It’s just so tight. I think that’s been the topic of the weekend, for sure, is how competitive it is. You got to be, I think, in the top six to have a shot at this thing. There’s a lot of great cars up there. Going to be perfect execution tomorrow, in the pits, on the racetrack.”
Kanaan lacked the track time most of his competitors enjoyed, only able to run 39 laps compared to drivers who ran as many as sixty-nine laps. “It’s been a frustrating weekend for the NTT Data team. We had some electrical issues before the first practice session this morning that only allowed us five laps on track before qualifying. The guys worked really hard to get the car on track to maximize the little time we had left. Starting 11th is going to be a challenge with it being so difficult to pass but we will work on getting the car in the right race set up in tomorrow’s warm up session and be sure we have the best strategy to get back up front.”
Each round is ten minutes inclusive of Red Flag time, with penalties of varying severity assessed to drivers causing Red or Caution Flags.
IndyCar does not allow tire warmers, so all cars go out on cold tires. The drivers take two or three laps, a third of their time, to warm up before going for it.
INDYCAR PHOTOS BY PABLO MATAMOROS
Verizon IndyCar Qualifying Results
1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:06.2254 (106.980)
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:06.4123 (106.679)
3. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:06.4401 (106.634)
4. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:06.5291 (106.492)
5. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:06.5595 (106.443)
6. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:06.7562 (106.129)
7. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:06.5404 (106.474)
8. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:06.6074 (106.367)
9. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:06.6145 (106.355)
10. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:06.6222 (106.343)
11. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:06.6262 (106.337)
12. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:06.7853 (106.083)
13. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:07.5832 (104.831)
14. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:07.3783 (105.150)
15. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:07.6931 (104.661)
16. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 01:07.3893 (105.132)
17. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:07.7977 (104.499)
18. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:07.4699 (105.007)
19. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:07.8442 (104.427)
20. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:07.5333 (104.908)
21. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:08.0439 (104.121)