Team Penske just may be the Kentucky basketball of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Will Power won the pole for tomorrow’s Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg, and his three Penske teammates were all right behind him. Power won the pole with a lap of 1:00.6931 seconds. The newest Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud, briefly topped Power just before the end, but Power got him back on his final lap. Helio Castroneves, and Juan Montoya will share Row 2, and Takuma Sato and Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the Firestone Fast Six.
This is familiar territory for Power. He won the pole here four straight years (2010-2013) and won the race last year after starting in fourth. In Round 1, he broke the track record that was set in 2003 by Bourdais. He then broke his own record later in Round 2.
There wasn’t a single Ganassi or Andretti car to be found in the top six, and eight of the top 12 cars are all powered by Chevrolet. It’s important to note that since 2009, the winner of this race has never started outside of the top five.
Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay will start in Row 4, while Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden round out the top ten. Beyond that, there are some notable drivers starting deeper in the field. Simona de Silvestro makes her return to the series starting 11th, while Marco Andretti rolls off in 12th spot. Graham Rahal is starting 15th and James Hinchcliffe 16th. Rookies Sage Karam (18th) and Luca Filippi (19th) will have to make their way to the front on Sunday.
Team Penske sure has dominated the weekend so far, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be slowing down anytime soon. They have had some playful banter back and forth the past couple of days, and it was no different after today’s qualifications.
Will Power: “It’s been a really good offseason. I think just the way the team is, the teammates, it provides a lot of motivation. Obviously winning the championship makes it a very pleasant offseason. You’re not sitting around wondering why you didn’t win again. Yeah, I’m enjoying it. I was really satisfied to get pole here today. All the practice sessions are working towards that, literally one lap that gets you pole. It’s a session where everyone gives it everything they’ve absolutely got. When you get pole, it’s very satisfying. It’s really difficult these days to do that. You don’t see anyone getting more than three or four poles during a season now. It’s the same for wins. Anytime you’re at that end of an INDYCAR field, it’s awesome.”
Simon Pagenaud: “It’s very fast. I’m super happy, to be honest. It’s incredible to start this way with Team Penske. We have a lot of pace. The car is fantastic. Thanks to everyone for searching and developing so much. The 22 crew is brand new and is doing a great job. It’s fantastic to be a part of the Penske family. I’m really proud. Today was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed qualifying.”
Helio Castroneves: “The Hitachi car has been pretty consistent, I have to say. We basically worked a little bit harder than what we thought. I have three other very good guys in the team, which is good because each one tries something different. In the end of the day, you’re just pushing to the limit. So it’s a perfect testament of great teamwork. Having 1, 2, 3, 4 (in qualifying) shows we’re pushing to the limit, all four of us. I think each one wants to be in front, but at least for the team it’s a good problem to have, having all four guys fighting for the pole position. I’m very excited at this point because we work in a way that hopefully we are going to have a result like that. That’s our goal. Our goal is to go out there and try to win a race. The best day for each car? We will find out tomorrow.”
Juan Montoya: “It’s good. I’m kind of disappointed with that lap, to be honest. It’s funny because from my previous session I was three-tenths (of a second) up coming to Turn 10. It’s the last corner. Just had to lift on the exit. Mad, but still ran a decent lap. I don’t know, for the team I think it shows how hard we work over the winter. I think it shows as well having Simon (Pagenaud) onboard and being a four-car team, I think it’s been really, really good. Running the Verizon car has been amazing. I don’t know, like we said yesterday, what could be better: 1, 2, 3? It was a 1, 2, 3, 4. To be honest, I think all the year is going to be like that. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t beat each other.”
Takuma Sato: “It’s a new season. Very exciting with Honda and Chevrolet presenting new aero packages. For the fans, cosmetically different, too. We obviously need to maximize performance. Over the course of the winter testing, I think we were quite satisfied with the result today. Proud to have the A.J. Foyt Racing car in the top six. Jack had a little issue, but we’ll find out.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “Just really proud of the KVSH boys. It’s one of those days where it can go either way. For the first time since ’03, I got out of the (first qualifying) group and got in the (Firestone) Fast Six. OK, we got off to a good start. Pretty proud of that. The car was pretty good. We started the weekend really in a hole. It might not have shown in the lap times, but we were not happy with the car. It was pretty rough. So to come out and make the Fast Six, it’s a good achievement. It’s definitely better than where we started last year. We’ll see how we can race. But there was definitely something in that last lap. I got a bit greedy. I was up a tenth and a half (of a second), I went for it, went to the escape road and probably ruined Simon’s lap. It is what it is. But very happy with the progress we made and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “In many ways we rebounded today from yesterday’s practice, but it was a disappointing qualifying run. From the first laps, I didn’t really feel we had the balance and the grip level to contend for the Verizon P1 Award, so we need to go back and find some more grip. We’re just a little shy on overall grip at the moment, and hopefully tomorrow we can put it together for warm-up and get this DHL Honda up front. It’s a bit of a frustrating day here because we’ve been in the Firestone Fast Six here in the past. We’ll look to regroup for tomorrow.”
Simona de Silvestro: “Eleventh is OK, for sure. I would have liked to be a little bit more up front. But being back here in INDYCAR, it’s definitely been a busy week. We just tested a little bit at the beginning of the week, and just getting to work with everybody here at Andretti Autosport has been great. I think to qualify where we are, it’s OK for the race. Hopefully we can improve tomorrow.” (On the biggest thing she’s noticed since her return to the Verizon IndyCar Series) “Well, definitely the aero kit; it changes the car quite a bit. I think that’s the biggest thing. You have to change a little bit how you’re driving and even kind of understand what the car needs to be fast. I think we’re all learning that, and hopefully we’ll make even more improvements tomorrow.”
Josef Newgarden: “I’m relatively happy. You’re in the front end of the grid. There are 24 cars, so starting in the top 10 is strong around this place. This is generally a very difficult place on tires, so the further up you start, it’s always better. We’re going to have to look after them better tomorrow. I think we’re kind of burning off our rears a little too quick. So in the morning warmup, we’ll have to maximize that and make our tires live. It’s such a long race and you have to be able to make them live. If you don’t, people keep sneaking up behind you out of the hairpin and you get dive-bombed going into Turn 1. I think that’s what we’re working on to maximize for tomorrow. As far as today, we struggled in the practice earlier and I think we made a huge leap forward. Now we’re in the top 10 and we have to work our way a little bit more, try to get into the top five and challenge the guys up front.”
James Hinchcliffe: “I’m obviously pretty gutted not to make it out of the first qualifying session. That’s not what I’m used to or what this team is used to. Certainly there are some areas for improvement, but it’s not due to lack of trying. We’ve been working so hard this weekend and over the last couple of tests to get the Arrow Electronics car dialed in. It’s just a little bit far from where we need it right now, but it’s not a long way. When you look at the times, it’s just a small change that will give us what we need to jump up a few positions. We’ll look at it overnight and learn a bit more in warm-up tomorrow, but we’ve got a bit of a strategy advantage with an extra set of (Firestone) reds. Not to say we wouldn’t rather be a little further up the grid, but that’s the situation we’re in and hopefully we’re going to come together with a good package tomorrow. With some quick driving, good pit work, good strategy, we’ll get up there.”
Sage Karam: “It’s pretty frustrating. That was the expectation for me – to go to the next round. It’s a good car. It’s the first time I’ve driven on red (tires), so it’s a learning experience for me. Every lap, I felt like I was getting better and better, and I was starting to brake later and later. I was starting to lose the tire a little bit. I think that’s one of the things the rookies are going to face here this weekend is that we’ve never driven red tires. We have to learn them. We’re going to go to the next race and have a better understanding for it and be able to qualify better. The GE LED car for Chip Ganassi Racing is a pretty good car now. I think we have a good race car and can race our way to the front.”
Below are highlights from all of Saturday’s action in St Petersburg.
The race distance is 110 laps, which is 198 miles around the 1.8-mile 14-turn street circuit. Drivers will have ten Push-to-pass activations, which last 15 seconds each. Takuma Sato won the Pole for last year’s race, and Will Power is the defending race winner.
Tomorrow is the first of 16 races on the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Coverage for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg begins at 3 PM ET on ABC.
Qualifying Photos via IndyCar