Josef Newgarden is clearly on a mission. After leading both practice sessions on Friday, he extended his championship lead by another point after earning pole position for the season finale tomorrow at Sonoma. It is the first pole of the season for Newgarden, who now holds a four-point lead over Scott Dixon. The American put down a blistering lap time of 1:15.5205 to earn the Verizon P1 Award. Team Penske took the top four spots in qualifying on Saturday, with Will Power joining Newgarden on the front row. Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves share Row 2, and Dixon will start sixth.
Takuma Sato qualified fifth, in what was an impressive performance by Andretti Autosport. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi will start in Row 4, and Marco Andretti will start 11th on Sunday. The RLL and Dale Coyne Racing Hondas of Graham Rahal and Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top ten in qualifying.
Qualification Results for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
Chip Ganassi’s team struggled on Saturday. Tony Kanaan qualified 12th, Max Chilton was 14th, and Charlie Kimball will start 15th tomorrow. Dixon did manage to make the Firestone Fast Six, and became the only driver this season to reach the final stage of qualifying at every event. The only two races at Sonoma that weren’t won by a driver starting inside the top three belong to Dixon. He won from fifth and ninth starting positions, so a win tomorrow is still very possible. If he doesn’t win, it will be the first time since 2005 that he will have failed to win multiple races in a season.
Conor Daly had a nice outing on Saturday, and will start 13th in his ABC Supply machine. The AJ Foyt Racing driver was the only non-Penske Chevy driver in the top 16. James Hinchcliffe struggled, and will roll off in 16th on Sunday. His teammate again this weekend is Jack Harvey, who is one of a few Rookies in the race. Zachary Claman DeMelo is making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with RLL Racing, and will start 21st tomorrow.
The race distance is 85 laps, which is 195.8 miles around the 2.385-mile 12-turn permanent road course. Pagenaud is the defending race winner, taking the checkered flag after starting from pole position last year.
Coverage for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma begins at 6:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar
Simon Pagenaud: “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.”
Josef Newgarden: “I can’t say that I necessarily expected it, but it’s really great to get the No. 2 Hum by Verizon Chevy team a Verizon P1 Award. We’ve had a few chances at it this year, but for various reasons came up a little short. Honestly, I wasn’t sure we’d get this one, but we knew the car was fast and it was good to get it done. The track was really gripped up from the earlier race. It was a little slick at first, but after the first lap it was gripped up nicely. That was just part of the job. We need to come back tomorrow and complete the job.”
Helio Castroneves: “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.”
Conor Daly: “I think I’m pretty happy with what happened today. We put a pretty solid lap together and we missed it by just a hair. We made a huge jump forward from where we’d been and that’s what we have to keep doing. Our weekends are always about progression and we keep trying to get better. I have no doubt we’ll continue to improve through the warmup and hopefully the race as well.”
James Hinchcliffe: “Not where we wanted to qualify, certainly, but it’s been a struggle of a weekend from the get-go. I think we made some progress with the Arrow car in qualifying. Unfortunately on my red (Firestone alternate tire) lap, I bottomed out a little bit and made a mistake as a result, so we lost some time that maybe would have put us through to Segment 2, but maybe not much further than that. Still a little bit of speed missing, but it’s a long race tomorrow and tire conservation is going to be key. We’ll focus on making a car that’s good with our Firestone (tires) and try to move up the ranks tomorrow.”
Jack Harvey: “I think we improved the car quite a lot from yesterday to practice three to qualifying. I think, without a doubt, we had speed to transition from our (qualifying) group. I found traffic on a lap, and I think they could have moved out of the way, honestly, and I think that ruined my track position which forced me to back off and miss the peak of the tire. Just time left on the table when I feel like all weekend we’ve been making progress, and to have that in that session, it was disappointing. It’s been one of those weekends where we’ve struggled a bit, but then we kind of found the pace but everything else didn’t really come with it. We ended up qualifying 10th in group, which is not what we came here to do. The AutoNation Sirius XM guys have been working really hard to find us a better solution, and I think we’ve done that. Tomorrow we’ll learn as much as we can, get to the checkered flag, and hopefully get my pink machine closer to the front than where we started.”
Max Chilton: “It’s going to be hard to get forward from where we’re starting, but we’ll do our best in the Gallagher car and work together as a team. Scott (Dixon) managed to do it here in 2015 and get the job done so I’m sure we can do it again. On the No. 8 car we’ve been struggling but have been making gains each session. I felt that was one of my best qualifying sessions of the year and I was happy with the job I did. Sometimes you’re just fighting a losing battle with the amount of downforce you’re carrying. Hopefully we can move forward and have a good race and Scott is spraying champagne at the end of the day for the Ganassi team.”
Scott Dixon: “I think the air temperature change might have thrown us off a bit. The NTT Data car was good this morning, but then we just didn’t have the grip. We were lucky to find a few things and scrape through the qualifying rounds. I actually made a big mistake in Turn 3 that cost us some time, but I don’t think it would have put us close to the top, maybe just up one more position. I think we’re the best of the rest today, but the race is tomorrow and there is a lot that can happen between the start and the checkered flag. I’m looking forward to it.”
Tony Kanaan: “I think we’re just still pretty far off from where we need to be to make sure we’re competitive this weekend. We barely made it out of the first round and we tried a setup change in the second round that obviously didn’t work for us. I guess the silver lining here is that we learned something from that setup change we made during qualifying that we can definitely use in the race tomorrow.”
Will Power: “Qualifying was really great for the No. 12 Verizon Chevy crew and I. It was really just awesome for all of Team Penske with Josef Newgarden winning the pole and the rest of us starting up front. We had a little mistake in qualifying that set us back a bit that could have gotten us more speed but starting second isn’t bad. We’ll work hard tomorrow to get the car in the best possible spot to keep us up front. We need to do everything we can to stay up front to challenge to win the race and if things really go our way, we could have a shot at the championship. We’re ready to see what happens.”
Zachary Claman DeMelo: “Today was really enjoyable. I made some good progress throughout the day. I was pretty far off in the practice before qualifying, but we made some changes to the car and I got better. I made some changes to my driving and I was only two-tenths off of making it through to the second qualifying round, so I think it was a good result. I will keep working on the car and myself for tomorrow.”
Carlos Munoz: “We just haven’t been there this weekend. The group was quite hard. In the second group everyone went faster. It is a long race tomorrow and anything can happen (as) the tire degradation is a lot here on this track. We have some work to do and we’ll see what we have tomorrow.”
Graham Rahal: “We have just been a little off this weekend. Our United Rentals guys have worked extremely hard this weekend and the engineering staff has done a great job. We have thrown everything you can imagine at this car and we just can’t seem to make much of a difference. Today we really closed the gap; yesterday we were not this close. I’m proud of everyone here at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for keeping focused and putting us in a good spot for tomorrow. My gap to (Alexander) Rossi was only a couple thousandths (of a second) and only another couple of thousands to (Ryan) Hunter-Reay ahead of him. And (Scott) Dixon was only nine-hundredths ahead, so it’s tight. INDYCAR racing is the tightest, most competitive motorsport in the world. We’ve proven that time and time again and today is no different. The Penske’s are solid. We’re going to have our work cut out for us tomorrow, but hopefully we will find ourselves in front again.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “It’s disappointing. I think the team did a good job with the car at the test. Then we came back and we felt strong and we were looking really good, but then the Firestone reds (alternate tires) happened. We keep on trying to find things to make them work, but we’re losing track of things and it feels like we’re drifting and not really identifying what’s the cause. It’s tough because you don’t have enough time to work with them. I’m sure we’d find a solution, but not in the short amount of time you have. You just have to make a lap time happen and I can’t do that, so it’s tough, but we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
ED Jones: “Qualifying was frustrating. We tried something and while it helped in some areas, there were some down sides as well. That said, we had to try something because we were quite a bit off yesterday, but we’ll keep working on it overnight and hopefully we can get a good run tomorrow.”
Spencer Pigot: “We’ve been struggling to find grip all weekend and we definitely didn’t find it in qualifying. We’ll go back to the drawing board tonight and try to get this Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy a little more competitive for tomorrow.”
JR Hildebrand: “It’s nice to be back at Sonoma, for sure. Unfortunately, we’ve been struggling at these permanent road courses this year. We rolled off the truck and felt okay on the test day. We were running mid-pack for a lot of the day and we felt like we were going to be able to continue to make the car better and find some gains. We’ve been trying a lot of the right things, but it just seems like something is missing. It’s frustrating, especially being back here on home turf, not to just be more competitive all together. We’ve got some options for the race tomorrow; it’s always a long race. If we can look after our tires, we’ll have a good run. Hopefully, we can finish out the season with a solid final result.”
Takuma Sato: “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.”
Marco Andretti: “We made it through the first round pretty strongly. I think we had the speed and could have been right there with my teammates, but I locked it up coming into (Turn) 4 and that was enough to lose some ground. It’s on me. When the competition and the times are this close, every little bit can make a big difference.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “We were just on the wrong side of it today, eight-hundredths of a second would have put us through (to the Firestone Fast Six). We made a couple changes to try and calm the rear down a bit, but I think we ended up taking some speed out of the DHL car. It’s such a fine line in the Verizon IndyCar Series, especially at Sonoma, with how close the competition is. We’re just barely on the outside – eight-hundredths of a second.”
Charlie Kimball: “We made some changes that were in the wrong direction today for qualifying. We’ll definitely have to unwind some of those tomorrow for the warmup session and the race. Scott (Dixon) made it through to the top six, so that’s good for Chip Ganassi Racing. We’ll look at what he was able to do in qualifying and try to learn from his data. I just wasn’t able to get the lap time I needed out of the Tresiba Honda today. It’s always tough when you know you want to be going quicker than the lap times you’re doing, but we’ll figure it out and be ready for tomorrow.”
Alexander Rossi: “I think we could have been fifth or sixth. We had a braking issue present itself overnight, so the last session was pretty difficult. We didn’t learn anything, didn’t gain anything from Friday to Saturday, so we were on the back foot a little bit coming into qualifying. After our pace in Segment 1, I thought we could transfer into the (Firestone) Fast Six. We missed it by a couple hundredths (of a second), and again the braking issue kind of came back a little bit. But despite that, the NAPA Auto Parts car will roll off from a decent spot tomorrow.”