Helio Castroneves will start the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from pole position. The Team Penske driver put down a lap of 1:07.1925 in route to his 43rd career pole (2nd this year), which is fourth all-time in IndyCar history. Castroneves won the inaugural race in 2010, and the pole winner has won the race two times in the five total races at Barber.
Castroneves will be joined on the front row by teammate Will Power, who has also conquered the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course (twice). A third Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud, will start in row two alongside Ganassi’s ace, Scott Dixon. Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan will start in row three. Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal, Luca Filippi, and James Hinchcliffe round out the top ten starters for tomorrow’s race.
The one missing Penske driver is Juan Montoya. The Columbian driver failed to make it out of the first round on Saturday, and will start in 15th on Sunday. Even more surprising, Ryan Hunter-Reay will start in 18th position tomorrow. The Andretti Autosport driver has won the last two races at Barber. It wasn’t a good day for any of the drivers at Andretti. Their three cars will be starting 13th, 18th, and 22nd tomorrow.
The top seven (and 10 of the top 12) cars were powered by Chevrolet. The Firestone Fast Six was cut short about 1:40 seconds early, due to lightning in the area. The forecast for tomorrow looks promising, with sunshine and temperatures in the upper 70’s.
Earlier in the day, Scott Dixon was fastest in the first practice session, and Will Power was quickest in the second session.
The race distance is 90 laps, which is 207 miles around the 2.3-mile 17-turn road course. Power won the Pole for last year’s race, and Hunter-Reay is the defending race winner.
Coverage for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins at 3 PM ET, on NBC Sports Network.
Below are highlights from today’s qualifying, courtesy of IndyCar.
Will Power: “We were very strong in qualifying, but unfortunately it rained before the end. I just kick myself because the two laps I did there in the Fast Six I didn’t go harder. But I’m very happy to be starting on the front row considering last week (at Long Beach). Starting up front is huge here – we can win from there. That’s definitely the plan tomorrow. It’s been a slow start to the season and I’m very determined to get that first win of the year. I’ve been knocking on the door so we’ll see if we can get the Verizon car up there tomorrow.”
Juan Montoya: “Nothing too terribly wrong with the No. 2 Hawk Performance Chevy in qualifying, we just struggled to put a good lap together. We did have a few issues with the balance of the car. It is what it is. It’s tough because on these tires you really only get one lap and I missed it on that lap. The Hawk Performance Chevy is good, though, and we’ll do our best to pick our way through the field and towards the front.”
Helio Castroneves: “It’s all about team effort. Today is just another team effort. You can see it’s 1-2-3. Juan Pablo is not there. But for us every practice is qualifying. That helped us to push ourselves to be in this position. It’s not about because we have success here. I think it’s part of it, but all the drivers as well, like Simon and Juan Pablo, they have their share. It’s in the equipment. In the end of the day it’s a team effort. Everyone is working hard.”
James Hinchcliffe: “It was a solid day for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics team. Getting in the top ten is obviously a good effort from the crew. I wish we maybe could’ve had a little more and gotten another row out of it, but there’s certainly been progress for the condensed schedule and limited track time. I think the guys did a great job tuning on the car so now we just have to switch gears and get into race mode. We have a lot of work to do after Long Beach. Hopefully this race is less processional and we can use some strategy to get some passes done on track. We’ll try to outsmart and outdrive some guys, but all in all, I’m really proud of the boys and looking forward to the race tomorrow.”
Sage Karam: “I really just spent the morning getting comfortable in the car again and adjusting. My wrist is back to almost 100% and my confidence is back up from the last time we tested here. Qualifying was a big step in the right direction for us. It was the first time we got out of Q1 so that was huge. I’m happy with the way things are going and can’t wait to get the race started and see what the car can do.”
Scott Dixon: “The Coke car felt pretty good early in the day and we unloaded fast off of the truck. I think there is a little more pressure in getting up to speed quickly here as the weekend went from a traditional three-day format to a two-day format. Qualifying for us went well, and I understand they had to cut it just a bit short after the five minutes of guaranteed green-flag time had been satisfied. Helio put up a great lap when it counted and we’ll shoot at the top three Penske cars tomorrow.”
Tony Kanaan: “Qualifying in the top six here at Barber Motorsports Park feels really good, especially after how close we were last weekend to moving on in Long Beach. We didn’t have the best first practice this morning, but we were able to make some changes and have a much better second practice. The car just felt really good the first two rounds of qualifying. Once it started raining and the track started getting wet I just didn’t feel like I was going to be able to advance much more and we didn’t want to waste the tires, so we decided to come in and take sixth. I think we have a lot of momentum as a team going in to tomorrow.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “The Mistic machine was in the top five in both the practice sessions, so we had hopes that we would stay there. We missed the Firestone Fast Six by just a couple hundredths of a second, so obviously we are a little disappointed. It can go either way in these conditions. It wasn’t my greatest lap and we just seem to be struggling a little bit on road courses when we put the red (alternate) tires on. We are getting better, but we still need to fine tune the thing. The Mistic guys did a good job today, now we just have to go get the car ready for race day.”
Luca Filippi: “It has been a good team effort with both cars in the Top 10 and Josef Newgarden making it to the Fast 6. I thought we could have qualified a little higher than ninth, but it is a good place to start the race. I am sure we will have a strong pace tomorrow and be able to build on that. We are looking forward to a good result for both cars!”
Simon Pagenaud: “It’s interesting here with the aero kits with all the high-speed corners and the hairpin – so we get to see what the aero kits are doing at different speeds. It really helps the teams to understand the new bits and pieces as we try to optimize them. I love this track, but the only thing I would say is the level of commitment is beyond limits. You really have to push yourself before you get in the car and kind of turn off your brain a bit. But it’s fun.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “We just caught slower traffic there, I gave (Francesco Dracone) a huge gap to begin with knowing he was off pace, and I just caught him over and over again every lap. It’s our own fault for putting ourselves out there in that position though… We’re all in the same boat. We’re all trying really hard to make it better. I love this racetrack and it’s a shame we’re not getting around here quicker right now. But we’ll be working hard at it, that’s for sure.”
Josef Newgarden: “We’re getting there. We definitely didn’t have enough for Helio Castroneves, Will Power, or Scott Dixon. We aren’t right up there in pole territory, but at least we are consistently in Fast Six territory. That’s a good improvement for us and I am excited about that. We have a little work to do on our race car to make it consistently faster over a stint. Our team is strong, the Hartman Oil crew is full of good guys and good resources. We need to put it together and have a good, solid result tomorrow.”
Qualification Photos via IndyCar