IndyCar — Castroneves takes third straight pole at Long Beach

Helio Castroneves takes his third straight pole at Long Beach. -- Photo courtesy of Chris Jones, INDYCAR.

Qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach brought some significant surprises as Team Penske and the rest of the Chevrolet-powered teams struggling to keep pace with the resurgent Honda machines. At St. Petersburg, we saw that Honda was a lot more competitive than they were last year, to the point of being dominant over the Chevrolet teams. It looked as though we’d see that same pattern repeat on the Streets of Long Beach.

During the practice sessions, the time sheets were dominated by Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Team Penske. Penske’s Will Power lead everyone on Friday with his teammate and defending series champion, Simon Pagenaud in third. The Penske duo was split by Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti. Also with Andretti Autosport were Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay filling in the 4th and 5th spots.

Round 1
Group 1 and 2 were very different with most of the top contenders populating Group 2. In Group 1, Hunter-Reay, Newgarden, Rossi, Rahal, Hinchcliffe, and Kimball advanced with all drivers below the 67.5 second mark. In Group 2, Sato posted a disappointing effort and failed to advance after being quick in practice on Friday. Simon Pagenaud received a penalty during Round 1 after Race Control claimed he impeded his Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves in the hairpin Turn 11. It was a bit of a controversial call, at least it seemed that way to Pagenaud as he had to slow a turn earlier for Will Power who was in front of him.

Round 2
Scott Dixon shatters the course record with a 66.2285 as all but one driver, Sebastein Bourdais, in Round 2 beat the previous course record. Only one Chevrolet-powered car advanced, the Team Penske machine of Simon Pagenaud. The rest of the Fast Six was filled by the Hondas of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal, Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s James Hichcliffe, and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Round 3
Helio Castroneves came out on the attack right from the beginning of the Firestone Fast Six, sliding his car aggressively through the concrete canyon of the narrow street circuit. While other drivers took it easy on their opening lap, Helio threw down a 66.558-sec lap. He came back with an even faster time of 66.225, undercutting Dixon’s track record set just minutes previously. That second qualifying lap from Helio was good enough to secure Pole Position for tomorrow’s race, making it three Pole’s in a row for the Brazilian veteran at Long Beach.

My Thoughts and Prognostications
Although only one Chevrolet made it to the Firestone Fast Six, Helio did put the bowtie-badged machine on pole. As fast as Helio is in qualifying, his race pace has not been as strong recently. I think the advantage in tomorrow’s race still belongs to the Honda-powered machines of Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Strange things can happen, especially on a street course, and although passing is even more difficult at Long Beach than it was at St. Petersburg, I fully expect to see some of the strong mid-pack drivers such as Andretti, Bourdais, and Sato to move forward. Clever strategy, staying clean, and taking full advantage of serendipity will be key for those starting in the mid-field to have a chance at the podium. Bourdais showed during the opening round that it was possible as he moved from worst to first to claim victory. Could we see something like this again tomorrow? Perhaps, but I don’t think we’ll see quite as dramatic of a move. My pick for the race win is Scott Dixon. He’s been lightning all weekend, and he has the cool head required to preserve his car during these chaotic street races. First, he will need to survive Turn 1 Lap 1 which is always dodgy at Long Beach.

Qualifying Order for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

RankCarDriver NameC/A/E/TTimeSpeedSession
1 3 Castroneves, Helio D/C/C/F 01:06.2254 106.980 Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
2 9 Dixon, Scott D/H/H/F 01:06.4123 106.679 Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
3 28 Hunter-Reay, Ryan D/H/H/F 01:06.4401 106.634 Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
4 5 Hinchcliffe, James D/H/H/F 01:06.5291 106.492 Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
5 98 Rossi, Alexander D/H/H/F 01:06.5595 106.443 Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
6 15 Rahal, Graham D/H/H/F 01:06.7562 106.129 Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
7 83 Kimball, Charlie D/H/H/F 01:06.5404 106.474 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
8 2 Newgarden, Josef D/C/C/F 01:06.6074 106.367 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
9 12 Power, Will D/C/C/F 01:06.6145 106.355 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
10 27 Andretti, Marco D/H/H/F 01:06.6222 106.343 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
11 10 Kanaan, Tony D/H/H/F 01:06.6262 106.337 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
12 18 Bourdais, Sebastien D/H/H/F 01:06.7853 106.083 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
13 19 Jones, Ed (R) D/H/H/F 01:07.5832 104.831 Elimination Round 1 / Group 1
14 14 Munoz, Carlos D/C/C/F 01:07.3783 105.150 Elimination Round 1 / Group 2
15 21 Hildebrand, JR D/C/C/F 01:07.6931 104.661 Elimination Round 1 / Group 1
16 7 Aleshin, Mikhail D/H/H/F 01:07.3893 105.132 Elimination Round 1 / Group 2
17 4 Daly, Conor D/C/C/F 01:07.7977 104.499 Elimination Round 1 / Group 1
18 26 Sato, Takuma D/H/H/F 01:07.4699 105.007 Elimination Round 1 / Group 2
19 20 Pigot, Spencer D/C/C/F 01:07.8442 104.427 Elimination Round 1 / Group 1
20 8 Chilton, Max D/H/H/F 01:07.5333 104.908 Elimination Round 1 / Group 2
21 1 Pagenaud, Simon D/C/C/F 01:08.0439 104.121 Elimination Round 1 / Group 2
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