Simon Pagenaud on Pole at Sonoma

Championship points leader Simon Pagenaud extended his lead over teammate Will Power by another point today, by qualifying on pole for tomorrow’s season-ending race at Sonoma. It’s the 8th pole of the season for Pagenaud, which ties Power (2010, 2011) for the most poles in a season. Simon now has a 44 point edge heading into the event, and can lock up the title with a top-five finish, regardless of what Power does.

Pagenaud posted a lap of 1:16.2565 seconds in the Firestone Fast Six, which led a Team Penske sweep of the front two rows. Helio Castroneves will start alongside Pagenaud, and Juan Montoya and Power will share Row 2. The Honda machines of Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay also made the Fast Six, and will start from Row 3 on Sunday. Scott Dixon barely missed the cut, and will be joined by Alexander Rossi in Row 4. Sebastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden rounded out the top ten qualifiers on Saturday.

Qualification Results for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma

quals

The Ganassi cars haven’t been very strong this weekend. Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan will start 12th and 13th respectively tomorrow. Mikhail Aleshin qualified 11th, but SPM lead driver James Hinchcliffe will start 20th after a slip up during his qualifying run.

Andretti Autosport has had a terrible season, but all four cars have looked very strong during practice. Both Hunter-Reay (6th) and Rossi (8th) had solid qualifying runs, but Marco Andretti just missed the cut in the first round of qualifying, and will start in 14th position. Carlos Munoz will roll off in 16th position tomorrow. The team will have a driver/sponsorship announcement tomorrow at 4 PM ET, per a team press release.

The day started off on a great note for Pagenaud, as the team announced that Menards will be back as the primary sponsor of that car in 10 races next season. The original deal for this year just covered the Month of May at Indianapolis. Roger Penske then told John Menard that they could be on the car at Road America too. Two more races were added later, bringing the total to 5 races this season. That will be doubled next year, which once again includes the Indianapolis 500.

During the press conference today, The Captain said that Pagenaud, Power, and Castroneves will be back with the team next season, but stopped short of saying that Montoya would be back. He said they are working on a possible deal, but most signs point to him being out after tomorrow’s race concludes. Newgarden and Rossi are the two likely candidates to replace Montoya at Penske.

Obviously the focus will be on the championship tomorrow, as it should be. Still, there are plenty of big-name drivers still searching for their first win in 2016. Those would include Hunter-Reay, Kanaan, Castroneves, Hinchcliffe, and Munoz. Every driver wants to end the season on a high note, so the action is sure to be intense on Sunday.

The race distance is 85 laps, which is 202.7 miles around the 2.385-mile road course. Power won the Pole for last year’s race, and Dixon is the defending race winner. Coverage for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma begins at 6:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.

Qualification Photos via IndyCar

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Driver Quotes

Juan Montoya: “It was a good run for our hum by Verizon car. We had a really good day today and we knew we had a shot at it. I could just put the gas down in a couple of corners because the car had a little oversteer, especially in (Turn 7). But overall I am happy with it. It’s nice to see Penske sweep the front two rows. I know we did it in St. Pete, but didn’t start that way after Will couldn’t race. It’s neat to be a part of.”

Helio Castroneves: “Man, that was so close. The Hitachi Chevy has been fast all weekend and we showed it again today in qualifying. We felt good with our approach and the car was really consistent. I made just a little mistake and that probably cost us in the end because Simon (Pagenaud) was so fast, especially on red tires. Congratulations to Simon – that is good for him in the championship – and what a great job by Team Penske to qualify 1-2-3-4. It just shows how well we are working together. It’s still good to start P2, but I’d rather be on top tomorrow instead of today, so we need to focus and try to finish the year strong with a win.”

James Hinchcliffe: “This morning in the press conference, I predicted that qualifying was going to be a bit of a lottery. It was literally one lap, if that, before the tires became a factor and it’s just very tricky for the drivers and for the teams to set up. I had a lap that was going to be enough to transfer up until Turn 7, but for whatever reason, I got to Turn 7 and the car just didn’t turn at all. I don’t know why and it doesn’t make any sense. It was fine in Turn 11, so it’s just frustrating when you have a situation where it’s impossible to predict what the car is going to do, and to try and plan for that is just disappointing. The Arrow Electronics car has been fast this season and we should be starting higher than this, but we didn’t get the job done today so I’m going to work on it tomorrow.”

Mikhail Aleshin: “I think the team has made some good progress this weekend. Compared to what we had with the SMP Racing car during practice, we’ve made some improvements. The team did a fantastic job and we’re moving in the right direction. We have one more step to take tomorrow in the race because we’re starting in the middle of the pack but the race is long, so it’s all good.”

Max Chilton: “It’s a very challenging circuit and it’s such a great part of the world to come here and race in. I gave it 100 percent and all I had out there. I really wanted to qualify well here and finish the season on a high note. We had a great qualifying effort last race making the Firestone Fast Six and I wanted to do that again here. This track is similar to The Glen but a bit smaller. We have our work cut out for us tomorrow but it’s a tough and physical race and we’ll be up for the challenge tomorrow.”

Scott Dixon: “We had some major vibrations on the qualifying run with the black tires, and then when we switched to the red tires it got even worse. I was actually surprised we were able to get through to (Segment 2). Overall we’ve been struggling with overall grip. The times are just so close. The Verizon IndyCar Series is just so close and cut throat these days. You can miss by just a little and be on the outside looking in.”

Tony Kanaan: “We’re not very happy with our qualifying run today. I think we’re just struggling to find the right setup for the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet and everyone is still trying to find more grip. The back half of the field isn’t where we want to be starting tomorrow, but I’m confident we can close the gap for tomorrow and find the speed we need to contend at the front.”

Sebastien Bourdais: “A pretty good bounce back for the Plantronics – KVSH Racing Team. It has been a tough weekend. Like I’ve said, we didn’t test here and didn’t have a good baseline from last year when we struggled quite a bit, but, for once the car got stronger on reds (alternate tires) where we have been struggling here on blacks (primary tires) to generate grip. So, overall I was pretty happy with qualifying. I put a good lap in during (Segment 1) which put use solidly in for (Segment 2). Then in (Segment 2), I put a solid lap in again, unfortunately they sent Scott (Dixon) a little bit too late and we got within a second and a half behind him, which looks like it should not influence you, but there is so much downforce on the cars and so much turbulence behind, the slightest lack of downforce just kills your lap. So, the two, two and a half seconds I gained early in the lap, I lost in the last sector because I couldn’t stop the car. Frustrating, but overall pretty satisfied with the work that the team has done because Olivier (engineer Olivier Boisson) had to scratch his head and come up with ideas and solutions to try and get the car faster and he sure did that. So now we will see what kind of tire life we’ve got and what kind of pace we’ve got in the race because that is another question mark. Hopefully, we can get a good start tomorrow, get in the right train and see what we can get out the last race of the season.”

Will Power: “We just really pretty much didn’t have it all in qualifying. Just thereabouts. I think we’ve been like that in practice, as well. Just hanging in there, a top-six car. Same in qualifying. Definitely were worse on the red tires. That’s all I could do in qualifying, that was everything I had and the car had. I think we have to look at my braking, had some braking issues. Very much different brake bias than these guys. Might be something there that we’re missing because we just haven’t been there. It’s a long race. I think it’s going to be a race of degradation. It’s going to be really interesting the way the tires go.”

Takuma Sato: “We tried everything we could but it was a tricky qualifying. We didn’t have enough speed. The track felt slow compared to this morning but it was the same for everybody. Tomorrow will be a completely different scenario. I look forward to a strong race for the final race of the season. Good job by everyone on the No. 14 car to give us a solid run but unfortunately we needed just a little bit more.”

Graham Rahal: “It was a really solid end to the day for the Steak ‘n Shake team. It’s been a challenging weekend. No one has had their head down but we have had to work very hard to get ourselves into a good spot for sure. I don’t think any session was smooth for us so far but to come out of qualifying the top Honda is something that makes us very proud, particularly since the Andretti team has been so strong here this weekend. It was nice to beat them out there. We’re fifth and have four Penskes ahead of us. My guys have worked very hard; we’re the little team that can. Tomorrow hopefully we can get a victory. It would mean a lot to end the season off strong. Obviously we’ve got championship contenders in front of us, we’ve got to be smart about what we’re doing tomorrow but we’re here to win. I’m not going to sit around and wait for someone else to do it. We’ll push as hard as we can and hopefully we can get Honda, PennGrade, United Rentals and the rest of our sponsors in Victory Lane. We just have to have a good solid race. We started up front last year but everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. We just need to be smart tomorrow, protect those rear tires and have a good solid race.”

Conor Daly: “It was tough to find grip. We’ve had a tough weekend. I thought we’d be able to get a little bit more out of it, but I made a small mistake on our best lap in Turn 6, but honestly that wouldn’t have put us up much further maybe two positions. We’ve struggled here but tomorrow is another day and we’ll see what we can do during the race.”

RC Enerson: “I think we’re still moving forward with the car, but it’s pretty difficult at this place. The track changes so much throughout the day. In the morning, it’s really cool out and the cars are really fast, and then you get to the afternoon and it’s super greasy. It’s kind of hard to judge that. I think we just missed it a little bit but I think we’ll be stronger in the race. We just have to keep up our pace tomorrow and then hopefully hit one of those yellows. I think we can do all right if we hit the strategy right and we keep the pace up, we can have a good result tomorrow.”

Spencer Pigot: “The balance shifted more than we thought from black tires during practice to reds during qualifying. We did two sets of reds for our qualifying run. The first set was tricky; it was hard to get rear grip. The second set, we were just trying to put a lap together because we hadn’t had a solid one on the first run. It was a tough session but we’ll give it a shot tomorrow during the race.”

Josef Newgarden: “We did a good job as a group getting a decent result in qualifying. It’s a good top 10 starting spot. We would have liked more, I think everyone would have, but that’s OK. We’re still in a strong position to attack tomorrow. We’re still going to have a great race car, we know how to build a fast race car here. I have all the confidence that we’ll be quick and can capitalize from our starting spot.”

Simon Pagenaud: “It feels great. Most importantly up until now there was no thinking about the race, no thinking about the outcome. It was all about raw speed. Obviously the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet has been amazing. We certainly prepared really well in practice. Everything went perfectly all weekend so far. It was about preparing the car for the red Firestone tires, which we know I’m always more comfortable on those tires, so I can always extract a little bit more from myself. We had good balance on the car. The first lap, put the red Firestone tires on. I went on the radio and said, ‘Wow, this is going to be good.’ We were able to replicate the lap time every time. Unbelievable that we could actually replicate the lap time in the Firestone Fast Six with used tires. Certainly I did everything I could by challenging every high-speed corners that I could. I was on the edge, but it was a really good lap. Super proud of these guys. The guys on the No. 22 team, seven poles this season, four wins. No matter what happens tomorrow, it’s been an incredible season.”

Carlos Munoz: “The hhgregg car was looking good in practice and in qualifying we just weren’t as fast as we were in practice. The track didn’t feel bad at all so I don’t really know what happened. You just have one lap and in that one lap you have to put everything together. It happens.”

Marco Andretti: “We had an over-boost that cost two-tenths of a second. This one is going to be hard to swallow. Coming on to the straightaway we had a huge misfire and we lost two tenths (of a second) and, you know, we missed (Segment 2) by a half of a tenth (of a second). It’s going to be tough to sleep tonight. It’s a bummer, we had the pace to do something pretty good today with the Snapple car. I’m going to be pretty bummed out tonight.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay: “We made the (Firestone) Fast Six, but we’re pretty disappointed with the result. We just missed a little bit with strategy and timing of our runs, and had some issues during the run that kept us from achieving the time that we had hoped to get for the DHL team. I don’t think we showed our full potential, but sixth is good starting spot. I just think we could have been quite a bit better.”

Jack Hawksworth: “We really struggled in the heat of the day. We couldn’t generate any real grip out of the tires – I think we probably missed on the tire pressures. The car wasn’t as good this afternoon as it was in the cool of the morning.”

Charlie Kimball: “It was a good day for Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing getting into the top 12. Definitely disappointing in (Segment 2) not to have had a better lap, but with the challenge of the tires only being good for one lap you have to have a perfect lap. I didn’t quite get the best out of it in the second round of qualifying. We’re starting 12th and we have 85 laps to move forward tomorrow during the race. I know that these guys in the pits have been rock solid, especially the second half of the year. We’ll have a good car tomorrow to go race with especially as we go through a fuel stint and the car changes. It’s going to be a little hotter and a little windier tomorrow, but I think that challenge plays right into our hands.”

Alexander Rossi: “We only missed the (Firestone) Fast Six by a one-hundredth of a second, that’s really hard to swallow because you can look back and look over a lap and think of a lot of places where that one-hundredth is. It’s just crazy. It’s our best qualifying on a road course so we have to take some satisfaction from that and try to get the car to the front tomorrow. I think we have a fast race car so this is the one Saturday where I know I’ll get a decent night’s sleep.”

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