Verizon IndyCar Series driver, Helio Castroneves/No.3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet was crowned Speed King Friday night at Phoenix International Raceway with a record qualifying lap of 194.905 mph. He reclaimed the record, set minutes earlier by his Penske teammate, Will Power in No.12 Verizon Chevrolet, who turned a lap of 194.017 mph. That lap broke the then-existing record of 192.631 mph set by Castro last year. By the end of qualifying, seven drivers had eclipsed Castroneves’ record of last year.
Castroneves’ Team Penske Crew also won the Firestone Pit Stop Performance Award at Barber last weekend.
Castoneves said “People don’t realize that qualifying is extremely difficult. I took it to the limit – I had one eye closed and one eye open. Experience is a big part of this and today was really, really good. The conditions were really difficult today in practice – the gusting winds were horrendous. We worked mostly on the race setup (in practice).
“It’s been tough. Then they call us old. That’s what I tell you. Experience is a big part of this. Today was really, really good.
“The conditions were really difficult today because it changed from last year. Last year, we qualified in the afternoon, practiced at night. Now it was completely different. But the gust winds were horrendous.
We just decided to work obviously most on the race setup, make sure that the car would feel good. Big things that happened here in pre-season, probably it paid off today because we didn’t have to go through a lot of change.
But again, in qualifying, yeah, my engineer did a phenomenal job. We calculated something in the car. It turned out to be a good one.”
Photos by Pablo Matamoros
The two Penske teammates have alternated Verizon P1 Pole Awards for the four qualifying sessions so far this season. And now Power is on a mission to catch up and pass Castroneves. “You know, this year it’s been pole for me, pole for Helio, pole for me, pole for Helio. Let me work this out. Indy road course for me, damn it, pole for Helio. I wanted the 500 pole. But then maybe it works out in the race, so…
“Helio and I are going at it because we’re really close in poles. I think I’m 46 and he’s now 49. He’s, like, really trying to cement that position, but I’m going to take it from him.”
Power thought qualifying was better than practice. “Conditions were definitely better. It was just a little tough going second in line because of all the dust that had blown on the track. So, I was very unsure on the first lap.”
Power was asked about tires and wear, whether the track smoothness was keeping the Firestone tires from degrading and it affecting passing. He agreed. “Yeah, you’re right. If it degraded more, it would help passing. But they (Firestone) brought a more durable right front tire. I think they fixed the front tire, had a couple issues last year.
“The tire does degrade a little bit, but not like Iowa. It really degrades, creates some good racing. I think it could be a really good race. I expect it to be a really good race. I mean, it’s a little harder than other tracks to get a run.”
Chevrolet made a sweep of the top five spots, with all four Penske drivers making JR Hildebrand/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet The Man In The Middle, in third position. Fourth and fifth were Josef Newgarden/No.2 and Simon Pagenaud/No.1 Menards.
Hildebrand said “I’m glad to be up there in the top three. The car has been good here from the test to rolling out today for practice. We had a good, strong run. It’s so difficult to pick your downforce level in these varied conditions. We saw the Penske guys roll out with a little less than where we were at, but frankly, our cars are really good in race trim. Ed (Teammate and Team Owner, Carpenter) and the No. 20 car will be hauling it from the back, but he’ll be someone to watch in the race for sure.”
Carpenter spent much of Practice in the garage working on a fuel leak, and qualified last in the field of 21. “The guys did a great job turning the car back around and having it ready for qualifying. We just didn’t have the balance we needed and we’ll have to make our way forward from the back of the field tomorrow night.”
Newgarden was brief and to the point. “”I’m happy that we have speed & we’re up front, but we wanted more.”
Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing was the top Honda qualifier, in sixth position. He said “I have a strong track record here at Phoenix, so I definitely think we can get around those Chevys tomorrow and win from sixth.”
Kanaan’s Ganassi teammate, Scott Dixon/No.9, who won last year’s Desert Classic, qualified eighth. “The ambient conditions changed a lot from practice to qualifying. We found a lot and learned that we were a bit too conservative in qualifying. We came up a little short and we know we can trim out a bit more for the race in the NTT Data No. 9.”
Points Leader Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Sonny’s BBQ Coyne Racing Honda qualified thirteenth. “Not a bad run in the Sonny’s car, but just not quite good enough. We’re kind of fighting amongst ourselves in the Honda camp, and we’re P5 in that group. It’s OK, it’s not great, but at the end of the day it’s a tough run.”