Simon Pagenaud earned his second career Pole on Friday, on the big oval in Fontana. It’s the first Pole for the Frenchman since he joined Team Penske. Speaking of the domination of Roger Penske’s team, Helio Castroneves will start second in tomorrow’s race, giving The Captain a front row sweep for the MAVTV 500. Pagenaud has a two-lap average of 218.952 mph on the Auto Club Speedway oval.
This is the third straight race where Pagenaud will start from the front row, and the fifth straight race that a Team Penske car has been on the front row. Despite the race being 500 miles in length, starting up front is a major key for success here. In the 13 open wheel races at Fontana, four were won by a driver starting on the front row (two from Pole position).
For Castroneves, it’s a track he knows very well. He has competed in more races here than any other driver, he’s led the most laps here, has the most poles, and the most top-ten finishes. Still, he has not won a race here in seven tries. He’ll look to change that tomorrow, as he continues to hunt for his first win of the 2015 season.
Row 2 will feature a pair of American favorites. Marco Andretti earned his best starting spot since he won the pole for the 2013 Pocono race. Ed Carpenter will start alongside him in fourth. The last three races here, Carpenter has finished 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Row 3 is a talented one. Juan Montoya starts fifth tomorrow, and the points leader is looking to win his third straight 500-mile race. Scott Dixon will start to his outside, and he too is looking for his first victory at Auto Club Speedway.
Tony Kanaan had an identical time with his teammate Dixon, at 217.184 mph. The Brazilian has finished on the podium in five of the six races he has run at Fontana. Will Power will start eighth, with Takuma Sato and Sage Karam creating an interesting fifth row, given their history. Graham Rahal will have a lot of cars to pass if he wants to get up front on Saturday, after qualifying in 19th position.
Despite being fastest in the first practice session, Ryan Briscoe will start 15th tomorrow. Earlier in the day, he told Curt Cavin that he will be running the rest of the season in the No. 5 car for SPM, as James Hinchcliffe continues his recovery.
The race distance is 250 laps, which is 500 miles around the 2-mile D-shaped oval. Castroneves won the Pole for last year’s race, and Kanaan is the defending race winner.
Coverage for the MAVTV 500 at Fontana begins at 4 PM ET.
Simon Pagenaud: “It’s good. We’ve been working really hard on the No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet Team – it’s a brand new team. It’s gelling really well and I’m super happy to get a superspeedway pole. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s a totally different day tomorrow. This (pole) is nice, but frankly, you can win from the back in a 500-mile race. Lots of traffic tomorrow and it’s going to be important to keep your tires underneath you. Being able to run in different lanes and being smart in traffic is going to be key. And obviously there is going to be a lot of pit stops, too – so there’s a lot for tomorrow, but I’m just going to take this tonight and enjoy it.”
Will Power: “We didn’t even do a qualifying sim in practice. We had a lot of push and I had to lift on the first lap so it wasn’t ideal. It is a long race and we just have to have a consistent race car and make our way up front. If you’re near the front in the final 20 laps, you have a chance (to win).”
Juan Montoya: “It was an OK run for the PPG Chevrolet. I figured it would end up somewhere around fourth to sixth and we ended up fifth. The car drives really well. We can make our way to the front easily from where we are starting. It’s a long race. Anything can, and probably will, happen. If we are solid on pit road all day, then we should be right there at the end.”
Helio Castroneves: “I’m happy – the performance was very consistent. Wow, to be able to do two laps exactly the same shows that the car is good, and also very consistent. The challenge is the temperature. You know, it’s very slippery when it gets very hot. It can be very challenging. Even when you have several lanes to go, the car sometimes just wants to go one way and that’s the biggest (challenge) – trying to find new lines without having any huge moments.”
Ryan Briscoe: “It’s been a really good day and we had pretty high expectations for qualifying. We just didn’t go as fast as we were hoping, but the car felt really good. We just had too much downforce on it. That would be a really easy fix if we were to qualify again, but I’m pretty excited about the speed we’ve had in practice and in race trim. I guess we’ve been making a habit of coming from the back and toward the front, so maybe we’ll just have to do that again.”
Sage Karam: “I never went low in Turns 3 and 4 and I tried that during qualifying. That took a lot of guts for me to just say ‘I’m going to do this,’ but I made a little mistake on my last lap and I chose the wrong gear and hit the rev limiter. I think we would have been a little higher up the scoring pylon, but we’ll learn from it and move on.”
Scott Dixon: “We missed it for some reason, so I’ll have to go back and talk it over with the team as to why we were hitting the rev limiter. The winds definitely picked up and the conditions were ideal. We tried to run the bottom but there was still some quick dry down on the track and it got pretty slick. Overall missing it in qualifying isn’t that big of a deal and it’s a 500-mile race and I know we have a good Degree Chevrolet for the race.”
Tony Kanaan: “I think we have a really good car in the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet, but with some of the changes we made between the second practice and qualifying we just missed a little. The good thing about qualifying on a track like this one is that your starting position isn’t as important as it might be on a road course. There are so many lanes to make passes and lines to take that if you have a fast race car, it won’t take you long to make it back to the front.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “We were just a little too aggressive with the balance of the car. It was oversteering (loose). I also made a mistake. I was freaking out a little bit on the second lap between Turn 1 and 2 and forgot to downshift into fifth gear, so we were a bit low on the rpm and that killed the second lap. It was a good effort by the Mistic guys and the Chevy power was strong again. We had a bit of a disjointed second practice and we didn’t get through all the items we wanted to do. We gave it our best shot in qualifying. Now we just keep working and see what we can come up with for the race tomorrow.”
Takuma Sato: “Very pleased – it was a good performance from the team. In practice we weren’t able to optimize the car but they put everything together in qualifying and I was able to run on the bottom of the lane, which is difficult to hold the line because it’s bumpier. The first lap was good but on the second one it naturally started sliding, so I lost a little bit of speed. But to be in the top 10 is a good place to start.”
Graham Rahal: “I’m happy with the speed we ran, which was way, way better than I expected based on the speeds I did earlier today. I knew qualifying was going to be our weakness but I think the race car is pretty good. I don’t want to start too far back obviously, but I told my guys I thought we would qualify between 15th and 18th. Everyone adds so much downforce back on the cars for the race. Over a 30-, 32-lap stint we did in practice, I was able to stay pretty close to flat the whole time and able to pass (Will) Power and a bunch of good guys, so I feel like we will be OK in the race.”
Ed Carpenter: “We had a good qualifying run. That was a lot better than we’ve been able to show on the first two ovals. The win and second place in Toronto gave us good momentum and the week off was really good, too. We had been struggling on the ovals and the week off really gave us a chance to get immersed in what our problems were and come up with some good ideas to come here and get back on track. I just have to thank all the guys on the team – mechanics, engineers, everybody, for putting in the hard work to get the cars driving nice again.”
Marco Andretti: “We’ll have a pretty clean view for the start here. I’m pretty excited about the race car; I’m thrilled with where we ended up in quals – but I think my race car is really solid, and thankfully we won’t have to come from the back. Just really proud of everybody, we’re really maximizing everything.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “It was a pretty good run in the No. 28 DHL car; we had to be a little conservative with it. We didn’t go working the qualifying stuff this morning, didn’t get a good read off it. … It’s a 500-mile race, we just went at it kind of conservatively and we were the first amongst our teammates (Marco Andretti, Carlos Muñoz) again, so we gave them some feedback for their runs.”
Josef Newgarden: “I was surprised, when I saw Ed (Carpenter’s) lap I got excited and we didn’t have the same speed. The car was good and will be good for tomorrow, we just didn’t have the speed tonight. Ed has always been good in the race here and hopefully that helps us tomorrow. We definitely did a lot of homework after Texas. The break was good, not just for me but for the entire team. We had more time to prep our cars more than most races and that has paid off here so far.”
Qualification Photos via IndyCar