It’s good to be Simon Pagenaud. The Frenchman kept his hot start to the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season going today, by winning the Pole for tomorrow’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. It’s the second Pole for Pagenaud this season, with this weekend’s event being the fourth race on the schedule. The Team Penske driver is currently leading the championship, has finished on the podium in every race so far this season, and is coming off of a win last weekend at Long Beach. Simon’s earned his third career Pole with a 1:06.7262 second lap.
Team Penske has now won six consecutive Poles, going back to last season’s race at Pocono. The team will occupy the front row, as three-time Barber winner Will Power will start alongside Pagenaud. The second row belongs to last year’s winner, Josef Newgarden, and Scott Dixon. Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal will start in Row 3. Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe share Row 4, while Ganassi teammates Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball round out the top ten qualifiers.
Qualification Results for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
It was another horrendous outing for Andretti Autosport. They qualified 15th (Munoz), 18th (Hunter-Reay), 19th (Andretti), and 20th (Rossi) on Saturday. Despite being the two fastest cars in practice on Friday, neither AJ Foyt Racing driver had a good qualifying session. Jack Hawksworth starts 14th, and Takuma Sato qualified in 16th position.
One driver had it worse than all of them though. Juan Montoya sees his Penske teammates on the front row, while he starts dead last in tomorrow’s race. Montoya has been fighting understeer and setup issues all weekend.
The race distance is 90 laps, which is 207 miles around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course. Castroneves won the Pole for last year’s race, and Newgarden is the defending race winner.
Coverage for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins at 3 PM ET on NBCSN.
Qualification Photos via IndyCar
Juan Montoya: “It was OK but normally the reds come in really good and they go away really fast. For me they came in OK but they just stayed there. I could run the same lap times over and over again. It is not normal. I had too much understeer in the car and we’ve been fighting it all weekend. I felt like this morning we were where we needed to be for qualifying, but we put the reds on there and I was thinking, ‘What the hell happened?'”
Helio Castroneves: “We just haven’t been as consistent as we wanted to be. The AAA Insurance Chevrolet team has really worked hard. We got into the second round and when I got out there I took a chance in Turn 9 and it didn’t work out. I’m glad I tried, though. Starting seventh isn’t that bad considering where we have been. I’m really looking forward to racing tomorrow.”
James Hinchcliffe: “It was a frustrating end to the day, to be honest. We were struggling a little bit with the reds, but I think everybody was. The track temperature was way hotter this afternoon. We were on a lap during the second round that was good enough to get us into the Firestone Fast Six and I made a little mistake in Turn 5, and it cost us the time that would’ve advanced us. I was a bit steamed after, not because we didn’t make it but because we should have made it. I think everybody probably has a story like that. It’s the nature of this track and qualifying. It’s so close and times are so tight, but the No. 5 Arrow Electronics car is good so hopefully tomorrow we can play smart and move our way up.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “The balance shift from blacks to reds was a bit more than we expected. I’m sure tomorrow we’re going to have better balance for the race in the No. 7 SMP Racing car so everything will be good. Normally we have really good pace in the race. We can fight from 13th. We just need to be fast and have a little bit of strategy, and we’ll be all right.”
Max Chilton: “The start was good and we did back-to-back sets of red Firestone alternate tires and I think it paid off for us. But with that, in the second session we didn’t have any tires left, but I’m happy with the job we all did and getting to Round 2. I think finishing where we did after where we started was a big win so far this weekend and I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can move up tomorrow in the race.”
Scott Dixon: “I think we were just too loose honestly with the Coke car. We had a lot of improvement from yesterday but I’m still disappointed we weren’t all the way up there at the end. We tried to minimize laps on tires to conserve them for the race tomorrow. I think we should be in good shape for the race and hopefully get to the top step on the podium here finally.”
Tony Kanaan: “I think we had a much better car than our qualifying result showed today. We got held up a bit by another car that had just finished with their fastest lap and we weren’t ever able to put together our fast lap. The No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet was actually getting better as the run went on, but we just couldn’t get the time and gap that we needed. It’s not really anyone’s fault, but it’s still frustrating. I trust the NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing guys and I know they’ll give me a great race car. I think tomorrow’s race is going to be pretty exciting and I’m looking forward to showing what the No. 10 can really do.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “The car reacted very well on the red Firestone tires. The Europa/Hydroxycut machine did really awesome, and the crew did a great job. We were fast off the truck and didn’t really find anything that made the car better. But we were very worried about the reds because more often than not we are on par with the top guys on blacks, then we put on the reds and we struggle. I’m really happy with the way it turned out and a track record. It’s not a bad thing, but too bad I couldn’t put it together in the Fast Six. We’ll make the most of it tomorrow.”
Will Power: “I’m happy to be starting on the front row with the Verizon car. We’ll see if we can get a podium, a win, something to try and close that points gap so we have a shot at the end of the year.”
Takuma Sato: “Having had a good day yesterday, we looked over the data and thought we made the car faster this morning, but the different track conditions [hotter] made for a different balance. It seems to be a very narrow and very delicate [window] so we lost the edge and didn’t like the balance. Going into qualifying, it was a little bit unknown. The car came back a little bit, but we needed a little bit more speed. We lost by a very little bit because it was so tight, three hundredths. It’s a shame, but we have another warm up in the morning.”
Graham Rahal: “It will make life a little easier being this far forward. It’s always an interesting race around this place but we’ll just have to see how it plays out tomorrow. I think we have a pretty good race car. Qualifying pace is typically our concern. When other teams can turn it up a bit, we kind of struggle with pace. For us to get in to the Fast Six, the 1:06.8 I did was about as good of a lap as I think I have ever put together here. From comments I’ve heard from others, they are struggling with the rear tires going off a lot in the long run and I don’t really have that problem. We’re going to keep our heads down, keep focused and try to do what we always do, just out race them a little bit. And if we can keep the rear tires under us, save some fuel hopefully to make the end of the race easier so we can attack hard, I think it will put us in a good spot.”
Conor Daly: “The great thing is that it is so close out there. When you finish a qualifying session and you’re four tenths off of Scott Dixon you feel pretty good. We just missed the next round by ‘that much’, by 0.05 seconds. That’s really disappointing because it felt really quick, it felt really good. For me, I think I left some on the table that I haven’t taken advantage of on this track, so I just need to work on things. It’s a really tough place for my driving style, I think it’s difficult for me to maximize the speed here. The good thing about this race is that there’s open strategic windows. We’ve got (Juan Pablo) Montoya back with me, (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, Marco (Andretti), no slouches are in the back of the field with us. We’re going to try and see what happens. I’d like to charge through early and then maybe get off strategy, but we’ll see.”
Luca Filippi: “The top 12 was our aim in qualifying today. We are the third Honda so I think we did a good job. The car worked fine and we found a good set up. From my point of view, it was important to get to the Fast 12. Once in the top 12, we knew that there wasn’t that much to gain for us, so we focused on saving tires for tomorrow’s race. Now we have plenty of tires and plenty of options to decide what is best. So if we want to run mainly Firestone reds we can, if we want to run blacks we can do that too. We decided to look towards the race and now we have to focus on getting a good consistent pace. Tomorrow, maybe the strategy could play out and it could be interesting.”
Josef Newgarden: “Our guys have been working so hard, I’m glad we found a little pace over the weekend. We’ve been in the top 10 but not quite in that top group; however, we found a little bit on that last change heading into qualifying. It’s great to start third, that’s right where we need to be to try and win this race tomorrow. It’s the last time we’re going to be running this 100th Running Commemorate Bottle Fuzzy’s Vodka car, so it would be nice to get a strong result here for those guys. I think we’re going to have a race car to do it. We haven’t had the ultimate outright pace, but we’ll have longevity here – we always have.”
Simon Pagenaud: “It was awesome. The car was just incredible, the PPG Car, especially on the red Firestone tires. I really had a good time just driving it. We put the least amount of fuel in it and tried to save the tires by only going one lap in each segment. The car was so good that we just went through every segment. That last lap I just dug deep and that was one of the best feelings that I have ever had driving. Just that lap was good.”
Carlos Munoz: “It was a really disappointing qualifying after how we were looking in practice. I didn’t make it to the next group, so we will start in the back. We will see how the strategy goes. Last year we started off-strategy and ended up in front. This is INDYCAR, everyone is so close to each other – you have to make the lap times and unfortunately we didn’t. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.”
Marco Andretti: “We didn’t have the car we needed today – too much understeer and couldn’t get the times we needed to advance. It’s frustrating, to say the least, but we’ll keep at it and come back tomorrow fighting for better for hhgregg and Snapple.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “We really had a not-so-promising practice session (this morning), then in qualifying we had a good lap in. I was really charging for it and dropped the left rear (tire) off in the exit of (Turn) 9, just enough to make me lift. It would have put us P4 in my group – we would have at least moved on, but I don’t think it would have gone much further than that today. Hopefully we’ll put our heads together, put a great race car under us and pick a great strategy. We started from 18th last year and finished fifth. Hopefully we can do that again.”
Jack Hawksworth: “We just missed out-pretty frustrating to miss by just a hundredth. I wish I could have extracted just a bit more from the lap when it’s that close. It was a tricky day overall because the track temperature seems to have such an effect on the performance of the car. We rolled out this morning pretty similar to where we were last night and found the car to be too loose. To compensate for that, which wasn’t the right thing to do in hindsight because in the end with the reds and the track conditions in the afternoon, even though the temp went up, the balance seemed to go back to where it was last night. So we ended up with understeer. It’s frustrating because the basis of the car was pretty good. Very disappointed but we’ll go again tomorrow. It’s a long race, a lot can happen.”
Charlie Kimball: “I’m really happy with our qualifying effort today at Barber. The No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet was not where we needed it to be yesterday or even this morning in practice. We needed to find a direction for qualifying and we definitely did. We put the alternate Firestone tires on it and found a lot of lap time we’d been missing this weekend. It was nice to make it through to the top 12 and start inside the top 10. We have a solid direction for race setup and it’s really good to see all four Chip Ganassi Racing Teams cars inside the top 11 for tomorrow’s race.”
Alexander Rossi: “I think the only positive to take from today is that the terminal issues we had yesterday, we were able to more-or-less resolve overnight. We’re much closer to the rest of the team, which is an improvement, but as a team we’re not up where we need to be. We need to try and get creative tonight – it’s pretty hard to pass around here so tomorrow is going to be a tough day.”