Mikhail Aleshin on Pole at Pocono

Mikhail Aleshin has only raced at Pocono one time. That was in 2014, when he started 12th and finished 7th in his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Today, he became the first Russian driver to claim a Pole in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The 29-year old had a two-lap average speed of 220.445 mph around the 2.5-mile triangular oval.

“It’s my first pole in IndyCar and I am so happy to bring the No. 7 SMP Racing up there,” said Aleshin. “The team did an amazing job. We had a couple of moments in Turn 1, but I decided to keep it flat and see what would happen. (Hitting) the wall didn’t happen, but pole position happened.” Josef Newgarden earned his third front-row start of the season, as he’ll line up on the outside of Aleshin on Sunday. The young American is a trendy pick for this weekend, as he has finished 5th, 8th, and 2nd in his three previous Pocono starts.

Takuma Sato qualified third on Saturday, and Helio Castroneves will join him in the second row. Row 3 belongs to Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe. Alexander Rossi and Will Power qualified in Row 4, and Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter round out the list of top ten qualifiers on Saturday.

Qualification Results for the ABC Supply 500

quals

Championship leader Simon Pagenaud qualified in 14th, and Scott Dixon will start 19th in tomorrow’s race. They won’t be the only ones coming from the back, as Ryan Hunter-Reay will start in last place. He was unable to qualify due to a crash in morning practice that ruined his 2014 Indianapolis 500-winning car. The team was concerned about the tub of the car, and decided to go to the backup. Still, last year’s Pocono winner is confident heading into the race tomorrow.

Juan Montoya and Charlie Kimball also crashed during morning practice, but their crews were able to repair their cars in time for qualifying. They will start 15th and 16th respectively. While the Honda teams appeared to have the advantage during qualifying, it wasn’t the case during the final practice session. All four Team Penske cars were in the top nine during that final 30-minute session. Castroneves was fastest, followed by Munoz, Pagenaud, Bourdais, and Dixon.

The race distance is 200 laps, which is 500 miles around the 2.5-mile triangular track. Castroneves won the Pole for last year’s race, and Hunter-Reay is the defending race winner. Coverage for the ABC Supply 500 begins at 3 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.

Qualification Photos via IndyCar

Driver Quotes

Juan Montoya: “I think we did the best we could in qualifying. I had a moment there in Turn 1 on the first lap so it was good to make it through OK, especially after this morning. It’s a shame because I think we had a really good car here earlier and we were just trying to push too hard on cold tires in the practice and hit the wall. What a great job by Team Penske and the No. 2 team to get the backup car ready for qualifying so I have to say thanks to them. We’ll be working in the practice tonight to get the car dialed in so we’re ready to race tomorrow.”

Helio Castroneves: “I’m very happy with the result. The Hitachi Chevy was good this morning and that continued into the afternoon. We did get some luck with the cloud cover that cooled the track down. We haven’t had a lot of good luck this year; maybe it’s starting to change. I wasn’t really expecting fourth, but I’ll certainly take it. Now, we’ll get some more work in later at practice.”

James Hinchcliffe: “It was a solid effort from the whole Arrow Electronics team. It’s awesome that Mikhail is on pole and we have another one for the team this year. We came here feeling fairly confident with the speedway package after the month of May, then we went one-two in practice and now we have two cars in the top six to start the race. We’ll see what we can do with a 500-mile race. Obviously a lot can happen in that time but starting at the sharp end of the grid is definitely good. Also, huge credit goes to the Arrow Electronics crew for all the effort they put into these speedway cars and hopefully we can bring home a good result for them.”

Mikhail Aleshin: “It’s obviously very difficult to explain what I feel now. But it’s a lot of emotions definitely. Maybe you cannot see it with my Russian face, but it’s true. I’m very happy for the team first of all because we’ve been through many things. We’ve been through some very difficult situations at the end of 2014. They supported me then. Then I came back last year for single race, the last race in Sonoma, and finished in the top 10. This year, I mean, we had some good things, some difficult things – races, I mean. I think the last part of the season has been really good, and we had really good progress. Just the whole team all together, me, everyone else. It’s a team sport here, for sure. Every tiny thing is very important in the end result. So I’m definitely very, very happy to be here.”

Max Chilton: “I can see why they call this place the Tricky Triangle because this track is totally different from when we tested here a few weeks ago. It’s definitely a tough place to figure out. I was adjusting the car and trying to get the most out of it, but I didn’t have the confidence in the car for qualifying.”

Scott Dixon: “It wasn’t great out there in the Target car today for some reason. The car was extremely loose and we had quite a few issues this morning. We did a little bit of race running in the practice session but we lost a lot of track time with the crashes this morning that others had. I just don’t think we did a good job rolling off the truck this weekend and we paid for it in qualifying for sure. We have a lot of work to do before the race.”

Tony Kanaan: “I think we took a conservative approach today for qualifying with the NTT Data Chevrolet. We knew that we were going to have a challenging session based on the feedback from my teammates that went out before me. We didn’t want to take any chances. It’s a long race – 500 miles – and I think we’ll have a good car for the race.”

Sebastien Bourdais: “I knew qualifying would be tough, but it turned out to be quite a bit harder than I expected. The Hydroxycut machine started with a big understeer, so I backed down on the tools. Then as soon as I got to Turn 1 the car was loose. The rest of the run I just kept going between understeer and oversteer. I could never get the balance right in any of the corners. Basically no grip just sliding around. The track temp went up about 20 degrees from this morning and we don’t seem to deal with that very well. It is double difficult when you don’t go testing, but we will try and put on a better showing in the race tomorrow.”

Will Power: “The car has been loose and we’ll have to make some adjustments for tomorrow’s race. On the other side, the Verizon Chevy is really fast, but just a matter of getting the handling right. Just not connecting when we go into the corners, so practice tonight and making some adjustments should help.”

Takuma Sato: “Very, very happy about our qualifying run. We had a very good baseline car. We tested here a couple weeks ago which helped massively and we gained a good understanding for the strong superspeedway package that Honda worked so hard on and it looks like we have a pretty strong car. It’s a lot of compliments to our engineering staff particularly my race engineer Raul (Prados) who worked on so many details and the car was almost perfect and I really enjoyed running those two laps. It’s a fantastic achievement. Hopefully we’ll have a strong car for the ABC Supply 500 and have a good day tomorrow.”

Graham Rahal: “We trimmed out a lot more than (fellow Honda driver) Munoz and some others. The balance has been good but we’ve been lacking speed so we trimmed out a ton compared to them. I think we could have gotten away with it but the understeer was sky high. A little bit of lifting (off the throttle) and your time drops. I was pleased to see 218.3 (mph lap speed) but I think we could have done a high 219 or 220 had we been flat so we’ve got to work on that but ultimately what matters most is having a good race car and we’re going to work on that in the final practice.”

Pippa Mann: “So far I think it’s been a challenging weekend. We knew it was going to be tough coming here with Conor (Daly) not having been here before and myself being out of the car since May and not getting to test. I think we’re all a little disappointed with how challenging it’s been. That said, we’ve got another practice session this evening, so we’ll keep working to make both of our cars better and then it’s a 500-mile race tomorrow. It’s a really long race and if we can get the car in the window and drive a smart race there’s no reason that we can’t turn this weekend around and have a good day.”

Ed Carpenter: “It’s a tricky day. The conditions are a little different, especially with the wind, from when we practiced. That’s when it’s hard to be early in the line. It is tricky, there’s a lot of different downforce levels. I wish I could have got that first lap back. After I got the tools in the car adjusted to where I wanted them, that second lap was pretty good. I wish I could have had a couple of those.”

Josef Newgarden: “We rolled out with one thing and I was pushing my guys to do something different. It’s a team decision, whether it’s their decision or mine, but I feel like I was pushing a little hard for something that wasn’t the right thing. But we were close, we just needed that little bit. I think where we rolled out with would have been enough. It’s my fault that we changed it. I’m disappointed about that; you always want the pole. We have a great chemistry and group with our people, but sometimes I mess up. Congrats to Mikhail, great job by him. We didn’t have enough today but tomorrow is what counts.”

Simon Pagenaud: “I was fighting an understeer situation in the Menards Chevrolet which made it difficult. Going out early didn’t really help, either. We’ll continue to work in practice later to get the car in a little better place for tomorrow. It’s a long race and a lot of things can happen. I have a ton of confidence in my team. They’re the best.”

Carlos Munoz: “I wasn’t sure if our run was going to be enough to get the pole, but it was nice to be the second (car) out. You have to wait for the whole field to go, but you get to give information to your teammates. It would be good to be in the front, for sure, but here it is a long race so qualifying (position) is not as important. I think we have a good car all around and I love this place.”

Marco Andretti: “I think in race trim the car is strong, but my car hasn’t had the same speed as, say, my teammates really on speedway spec this year – even from Indy.  But the race is a different story, it’s 500 miles and a lot goes down there. We’ll hopefully be on the better end of circumstances and pull something out tomorrow for the UFD / Snapple team.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay: “I’m a bit banged up, sore, what you’d expect from a hit like that. It’s really unfortunate because this DHL Honda was a rocket here in the test just a week and a half ago. We came with a few different things in the car, but really we found that the real issue was just a cross-weight issue. The car was just mechanically a little bit too aggressive. We could have made qualifying, but the battle is that if you don’t make your space in line in tech, then you’re not allowed to qualify. This is the location of our last win, and hopefully we can get this 28 DHL car back into victory lane. Last year we came from the back as well, hopefully we can make it happen with Justin (Wilson) on our minds the whole way. It’s unfortunate but tomorrow’s the race and it’s 500 miles. And the backup car we went to is the car we won with here last year.”

Jack Hawksworth: “Pretty good qualifying considering we didn’t get much running here at the test. I think we did a good job this morning to get the car where we needed it to be. We did a qualifying sim and the car felt pretty good. We stayed the same for qualifying, not anticipating what the track was going to do but knowing if we kept the starting platform we should be OK and we did. It worked out OK since we qualified in the top half. Now we just have to do the work tonight to get the car dialed in for traffic and drive a strong race tomorrow for ABC Supply.”

Charlie Kimball: “The No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet felt really rock solid, so I think I definitely could’ve gone a little bit harder. I cracked the throttle in Turn 1 in two laps, but I think that’s fairly understandable after what happened this morning. The Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing guys and really everyone on the team worked so hard to get me ready for qualifying – I really appreciate everyone’s efforts. The 83 car felt good in qualifying though. We’ll put some more downforce in it and work out a few more things tonight in practice to make sure we’re ready go for tomorrow.”

Conor Daly: “We picked up speed from where we were in practice so that’s good. It’s a matter of just learning everything. There’s so much to learn and so much to understand about these cars in qualifying and if you’re going to really try and trim it out. We were very conservative on downforce so we sort of expected to be where we are. We’re here to get through 500 miles of the race and to have a good strong result come the end of the weekend. For me it’s just about experience. Experience is paramount here. To get through those 500 miles and learn from everyone around me will be the main goal. The track is really cool. It’s very challenging though because (turn) three is different to (turn) one, and one is daunting in the way that it makes the car feel in the middle of the corner. There are a lot of G forces and a lot of downforce. Whereas two and three are much flatter, so really challenging to learn at such a high rate of speed.

Alexander Rossi: “I think at the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway we were strong, and here we seem to be strong. The Honda package has really been developed over the winter coming into this year so the results of that are strong and we’re very proud. It seems to be very suited for the speedways. Glad to see Honda hold onto P1. Hopefully we can have a good day tomorrow.”

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