Josef Newgarden and his No.2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet team gambled on red tire choices and won, taking his first Verizon Pole Position since 2015 and broke the qualifying track record with a blistering lap of 1:15.5205. He had run his sticker reds in the first qualifying round and took the pole on red “scuffs.” This stretches his points gap to four points ahead of closest contender, Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Honda.
Newgarden was so excited, he had to be reminded what he said when he was told he had the pole. “Are You Kidding Me?”
The pole position doesn’t change his attitude going into the race. “No, this is IndyCar racing. Anything can happen. So, we’ve checked one thing off the box this weekend. We’ve got one big one to check off tomorrow. And then, if everything goes according to plan, we’ll see where we end up at the end.”
It was a nail biter of a Firestone Fast Six, with the lead changing a couple of times between Newgarden and Castroneves. The Penske Posse prevailed for the top four: Newgarden, Will Power/No.11 Verizon, Simon Pagenaud/No.1 DXC Technology, and Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi.
Fifth and sixth were Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda, the only non-contender in the Fast Six, and Dixon.
It was the tenth pole for Team Penske this season – the only team to win any poles in 2017. Now all Penske drivers have at least one 2017 pole on their respective resumes. All in all, Roger Penske’s team has 256 indycar pole positions, more than any other team.
The post-conference was brief and full of levity. While one driver would speak, the others closely perused the T&S monitor.
Regarding his thoughts on the Championship, Newgarden said “You always think about it. If you tell me not to think about it, I’m going to think about it. So, it’s difficult to not envision it, but I think for us, we’ve got to get through the race. We’ve got to have a good race car. Qualifying is one thing. Having speed is one thing. Winning the race is a whole other deal. So, we’re going to work hard with this Team Penske group. We’ve got four guys very capable of getting it done. For the Captain and for everyone at the factory, we want to make sure one of these Team Penske cars wins the championship. So, that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.”
Power was asked how frustrating to be so close, three and a half hundredths off pole. “Yeah, well, I mean, you start going back through the lap in your head. I could have just hit the throttle a little earlier there, yeah. Would have helped me braking actually, push back.
Yeah, it’s tight. It’s just like that sometimes. I mean, gave it everything I got. That’s the situation.”
Pagenaud said “That was really close. I can’t be unhappy with the DXC Technology Chevrolet. I thought we had as good a chance as any at the pole, but Josef (Newgarden) and Will (Power) were a little bit faster. Third is not a bad starting position at all. We’ll be right there if they make a mistake and right there to apply some pressure. We’ll continue to work on the car this evening and tomorrow morning in final practice then put together our race strategy. We plan for it to be a great day for the No. 1 team, but expect it to be a great day for Team Penske.”
Castroneves said “The talent of our group is incredible. Great job on Josef Newgarden winning the pole. Our team is really strong and we work really well together. It’s really exciting for Team Penske that we will start in the front tomorrow. I’d rather Josef get the pole and we get the victory. For us with the No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet, we wish we had a little more speed during qualifying. We have a great spot up front but wish we had a little more. It’s going to be quite a battle tomorrow with my teammates and Scott Dixon and we are ready for the challenge.”
Castroneves summed up the Penske Posse philosophy. “But in the end of the day, we still got to deliver this championship to Roger. We understand what we need to do. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.”
He elaborated. “Yeah, well, you know the top four today here is Team Penske. It made a lot of sense. We planned that at the beginning of the year. We’re surprised actually people did not decide to join Team Penske. I’m not sure how the rules were, if they’re allowed or not. But the point is, they were allowed, right? I don’t understand why.
“As mentioned, a hundred points (for winning race.) Team Penske, we’re throwing everything out there. We wanted this championship as bad as anybody. We do have a chance. We going to obviously try to execute. That’s our goal.
“So we did learn a lot, not only as qualifying but also as race pace. Certainly this place, the weather change quite a lot. So even that we came here, it was one way, but at least that day, we checked that box. We knew what to do. But it was a progress toward the entire weekend for us, to keep improving our cars. Today it showed very well in the qualifying. Now we got to continue finishing the rest of the job.”
Sato said “It was a fantastic feeling. Obviously, the fifth position isn’t pole position, but I think looking at the speed of the competitors, we achieved what we could do. I think certainly, the entire Andretti Autosport and No. 26 guys did a enormous, fantastic job so I’m really happy with them and we got it done all together.”
Dixon was philosophical after the session, in which it was down to the wire if he or Rahal would make the cut. “As a team, I think this is always one of our most difficult circuits that we come to. This morning, we made some good gains, but the conditions this afternoon, we just didn’t have the grip. It was kind of strange. The balance felt good. The car was kind of decent to drive, but just couldn’t carry the speed through the corners.
“Kind of interesting. We almost didn’t make group one. Then just squeaked through in Q2. Good to make it through to where we did. It was definitely hard work. A big credit to the team.
“Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there. I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race. Definitely you’d want to be a little further up. But that’s the way it goes.
“We’ll make the most of the starting position and see what tomorrow brings.
“We’ll just have to see how the car is on the long run. We always know that the Penskes are going to be strong here. The other manufacturer’s aero kit is going to be strong at this track. We know the deficits that we have. But we can still as a team overcome those, whether it’s strategy or a car on the long run that’s hopefully going to be good.”
His team owner, Chip Ganassi, said he wasn’t going to beat up Dixon.
GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA QUALIFYING
POS CAR# DRIVER CAR TIME SPEED
1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:15.5205 (113.691)
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:15.5556 (113.638)
3. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:15.6356 (113.518)
4. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:15.8032 (113.267)
5. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:16.2208 (112.646)
6. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:16.3978 (112.385)
7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:16.1815 (112.705)
8. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:16.1934 (112.687)
9. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:16.1968 (112.682)
10. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:16.5811 (112.116)
11. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:16.8221 (111.765)
12. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:16.9718 (111.547)
13. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:17.1016 (111.360)
14. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:16.7581 (111.858)
15. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:17.1417 (111.302)
16. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:16.9539 (111.573)
17. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:17.2662 (111.122)
18. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:17.0231 (111.473)
19. (7) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:17.2722 (111.114)
20. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:17.1602 (111.275)
21. (13) Zachary Claman DeMelo, Honda, 01:17.2814 (111.100)
22. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:17.2507 (111.145)