An all Penske front row will lead the field to the green flag.
What looked to be an all-Chevrolet Firestone Fast Six qualifying for Sunday’s 41st Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach had an interloper. While he didn’t repeat pole position from last year - that went to Helio Castroneves, who led the final 10 minutes from start to finish - Ryan Hunter-Reay was the sole Honda-powered car in final qualifying and picked up fourth starting spot.
Castroneves’ pole-winning time and speed broke the record formerly held by Justin Wilson. His fifth lap of 66.6294 seconds (106.331 mph) easily eclipsed Wilson’s 66.902-sec time (105.898mph) from 2008.
I’m going for it every time we go to the tracks,” he said. You guys (the other five Firestone Fast Six drivers) keep me pushing
The Brazilian’s Team Penske squad-mate Juan Pablo Montoya was second, just 0.0293 seconds behind Twinkle Toes at 66.6587 seconds (106.285). Target Ganassi’s Scott Dixon took third place at 66.7870 seconds, while RHR was fourth at 67.0473. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud was fifth at 67.1433 seconds and Josef Newgarden rounded out the top six at 67.1716 in his CFH Racing Chevy-powered machine.
Castroneves, the longest-tenured driver for Team Penske who joined that group in 2000, initially won pole position on this track in 2001 and now has 43 Verizon P1 Pole Awards, fourth on the all-time list. “I’m going for it every time we go to the tracks,” he said. “You guys (the other five Firestone Fast Six drivers) keep me pushing and that’s why it’s fun.” His Friday results “weren’t the best so we changed a lot this morning and that really started our weekend,” Castroneves revealed. “With the extra downforce” of the new aero kits, “nobody has the advantage quite yet.”
Issues for Power
While Castroneves had two other Team Penske mates racing him for top honors, reigning champion and Friday’s fast driver Will Power never got an opportunity to get a quick lap in his initial qualifying group because, with a bit more than a minute to go, Stefano Coletti made contact with the wall in his No. 4 KV Racing Chevrolet. The session ended with that red flag, leaving Power in 18th place.
Top qualifier comments
Montoya said his weekend has pretty much been a roller coaster, good in the first practice, nowhere in the second and again this morning. “We spent two days trying to figure it out and then just put it back the way we started and things were good,” he said.
Dixon said his car “rolled off really well here - better than we normally do. We seem to be really good on the black (primary) tires and not gaining the full amount with reds. Long Beach is always a tough one and strategy is definitely going to be top on our minds.”
Hunter-Reay, that interloper in Chevrolet’s party was 2010’s winner at Long Beach. “We’re still sorting the aero kits and trying to close that gap to Team Penske and Ganassi. We’re making steps but we’re not quite there yet. At least we’re closing that gap,” he said.
Pagenaud, who has been quick in every practice gave credit to his team. “Overall it’s been a good weekend so far. Hope it stays that way tomorrow!” And Newgarden, on the smaller CFH Racing squad noted, “We had a pretty disastrous practice 1 here, tried something different that didn’t work. We recovered really well as a group, and got ourselves some speed again. We’ve got a chance to fight for a podium tomorrow and we’re inching toward the Penske cars. I think we can challenge and we can tweak a little bit more. We’re close but there’s still a bit more” the team needs to gain.
There was a scant 0.5422-second separation from first to sixth, showing the depth of this field. In fact, the first 13 drivers were timed within a second in official qualifying; four drivers had their best times removed in the initial round of time trials for going too quickly through an area where there were yellow flags flying. They were James Hinchcliffe, James Jakes, Conor Daly and Charlie Kimball, the latter of whom was quicker than Hinchcliffe, yet the Canadian was awarded 13th place.
Tony Kanaan was 7th in his Ganassi Chevy, followed by Graham Rahal’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda, the KV Racing Chevrolet of Sebastien Bourdais and Marco Andretti’s Honda from Andretti Autosport in 10th. Sebastian Saavedra (Ganassi Chevy) and Carlos Munoz (Andretti Honda) completed the top 12.
Daly in the field
Conor Daly finished 21st for Dale Coyne Racing in the first group of qualifiers, doing a good job considering the 21 laps he had in this morning’s practice session. It was his first time qualifying on a road/street course in an Indy car and his first time using Firestone’s red (alternate) tires. He made a common error of going too quickly through a local caution; it happens and did to three other drivers.
Quickest rookie was Gabby Chaves in 17th for Bryan Herta Autosport; he looked tidy throughout the qualifying session. Francesco Dracone and Coletti were the final qualifiers this afternoon.
It was another cloudless day in Long Beach with temperatures just slightly cooler than Friday. The anticipated fog never showed up, allowing another massive crowd to congregate at The Beach. Sunday brings a mid-morning warm-up from 10-10:30 with the race scheduled to start at 1:37PM PDT. Coverage is available on NBCSN and the IMS Radio Network.