Helio Castroneves No.3 Southern California AAA Team Penske Chevrolet took the Verizon IndyCar Series Verizon P1 pole position at Auto Club Speedway Friday afternoon in the blistering 97 degrees F sun, while the track was 147 degrees F.. His pole lap was 218.540 mph/355.30292 kph/105.2247 seconds, set on the last qualifying run. The ebullient Brazilian was so happy he jumped up and down, while the Team Penske crew cheered in the pit lane.
This was Castroneves’ third Auto Club pole, his 26th on an oval, and his third pole this season. His sum total is now 41 poles, breaking the tie with Rick Mears, Penske driver with four championships and now Team consultant. Castroneves is now fourth on the all-time pole list.
Up to the point Castroneves took the pole, his teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya No.2, who had gone out second, held the pole position – and when any close contender ended up slower than JPM, the guys cheered. Montoya stood on the pit box, glued to the T&S monitor. He will start second.
Completing the front row will be Josef Newgarden No.67 Hartman Oil/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda.
Last year’s pole sitter/winner, Will Power No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet qualified a disappointing P21 out of 22 drivers. He still holds the qualifying record for an average of two laps – 220.775 mph/1:05.2247, set last year. Power won last year’s race from the pole
Power said “”For starting positions we would have liked the Verizon Chevy to start from the front, but starting in both the front or very back can help keep you out of trouble. From the back you learn what your car is like in traffic and we will have 3 hours to do it. It will be a long race. We have another practice tonight to work on things, as the Verizon Chevy was too lose. The start is to be there at the end and it’s far from over. The Verizon Chevy boys are going to do everything possible to make it happen.”
Simon Pagenaud No.77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda has an outside chance at the title championship this weekend, what with double points and all. He qualified fourteenth.
Castroneves was ever so jubilant. He brought his daughter, Mikaella, with him to his pole conference. He said “I really have to thank my guys and Will (Power) and Juan Pablo (Montoya). Going out last (in qualifying) really helped because I was able to get my teammates’ feedback and we made some changes that really helped us get the pole. Now, we need to keep going. We are starting up front but it is a long race and we know what we need to do to make it happen. This is the first step. Now we need to make sure we end up where we start tomorrow night. I am concentrating on my own race, and not being concerned by (my teammate and title contender) Power.”
Montoya said “We really had it set up for race trim, so I wasn’t expecting it to be that good for qualifying. But it was. It was really quick, especially for the hot conditions that we had to qualify in. We ran the same time that we ran this morning and it was much hotter. I’ll be honest I didn’t think that time would hold up that well. Congrats to Helio (Castroneves) on the Verizon P1 Pole Award. It’s going to be an interesting race tomorrow night.”
Newgarden, the highest qualifying Honda for the last four races, still wasn’t completely happy. “We’re always right there but can’t get the top spot. Today was the perfect day to do it. No one knows what line to use. Guys going high, low, middle throughout their run. If the game plan was right, you could hoodwink people. Our first lap could have been way quicker with a better line choice in T1 and T2. Judging off everyone’s performance, I think we could have been pole today.”
Qualifying was single file, using the average of two green flag laps. The Qualifying Order was done by blind draw. After Qualifying the temperature rose to 99 degrees.
There are 11 IndyCar Observers stationed around the two-mile speedway, spotting for Race Control this weekend at the Speedway. This is the most ever for this event, and it’s working out quite well.
Next up is Night/final practice. The reason the time was pushed back to 7:15pm PDT was so that the drivers could check how the evening light would be. Last year the race was in October, and this year it’s in August, which means the sunset time frames are different.