Simon Pagenaud has put himself in the thick of the hunt for a second straight Verizon IndyCar Series title without earning the pole position for a race in 2017. Until today, that is.
The reigning series champion set a track record for the current layout on the streets of Exhibition Place to capture the Verizon P1 Award and first starting position for the Honda Indy Toronto. The driver of the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet will lead the 21-car field to the green flag in Sunday’s 85-lap race on the 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary street circuit.
Scott Dixon will start from fifth on the grid. “It’s been a rough start to the weekend for us,” commented Dixon. “We really struggled finding the right balance for the car. From last year to this year, we’ve been dealing with a completely different configuration.
“I thought some of the gains we made this year on other street courses didn’t translate here for some reason. We reverted back to our setup yesterday in the NTT Data car when we were in the top three, but it’s just a handful around here. We had a great lap going, but I smashed the fence in Turn 6 in qualifying on the second lap, which cost us at least one spot I think.
“All in all my hands are full, but hopefully we can make some small improvements to get the car a bit better for the race tomorrow.”
In the Firestone Fast Six – the third and final round of the knockout qualifying format employed on Verizon IndyCar Series road and street courses – Pagenaud clocked a lap of 58.9124 seconds (109.138 mph) to win his first pole position of the season and 10th of his eight-year Indy car career. The lap was more than eight-tenths of a second quicker than the previous record (59.7747 seconds) set last year by Will Power.
“It’s been a great weekend so far,” said Pagenaud, who earned Team Penske’s eighth pole this season and its 253rd in Indy car history. “The car is really, really nice to drive. The most satisfying thing is to feel like as an athlete that you can extract the best out of yourself and be one with the car. That’s what I’ve always dreamt about and today I feel that way.”
Pagenaud said he enjoys the challenges of Toronto’s downtown circuit, with its tight corners and numerous surface changes. He’s looking forward to starting Sunday’s race from the point.
“Usually when I start in the front, I feel like things can go well, but you never know here,” said Pagenaud, third in the 2017 championship after 11 of 17 races and now within 30 points of leader Scott Dixon after collecting one point for winning the pole. “It’s such an exciting race, always a twist here in the strategy, so anything can happen. But cross fingers that it goes our way.”
Graham Rahal scored his best Toronto qualifying effort in 12 tries and will start second in the No. 15 Rousseau Metal Honda with a lap of 59.2245 seconds (108.563 mph) in the Firestone Fast Six.
“Honestly, I think on used (alternate) tires, it’s probably the best lap I’ve ever put together to put us P2,” the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver said. “The Penskes looked like they were going to run away with this thing. I’m so geeked for this team. These boys have worked so hard and, man, I couldn’t be more proud of them. That was awesome.”
A pair of Pagenaud’s teammates at Team Penske, Helio Castroneves and Power, locked up the second row in qualifying. Castroneves was third fastest in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (59.4345 seconds, 108.180 mph) with defending race winner Power fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (59.5430 seconds, 107.982 mph).
Dixon was fifth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda (59.7970 seconds, 107.524 mph). The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has advanced to the Firestone Fast Six at every road- and street-course race where it has been contested this season.
The final spot in the Firestone Fast Six went to hometown favorite James Hinchcliffe, who equaled his best Toronto qualifying effort of sixth with a lap of 1 minute, 0.14145 seconds in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
“It’s always tricky qualifying here,” said Hinchcliffe, who finished third in last year’s Toronto race. “This track is one of the those with all the surface changes and, where the walls are, it’s tough to get that lap on the (Firestone alternate) reds. … I’m really proud of the SPM Arrow guys. Top six (in qualifying) two years in a row, and last year we turned it into a podium, so let’s hope for more of the same tomorrow.”
Two incidents in earlier qualifying rounds affected drivers Esteban Gutierrez and JR Hildebrand.
Gutierrez, the Verizon IndyCar Series rookie driving the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda, made hard contact with the wall at the exit of Turn 11 at the conclusion of Segment 1, Group 1 qualifying. The Dale Coyne Racing entry sustained significant right-side and rear damage in the incident.
Gutierrez was evaluated by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Michael Olinger after experiencing concussion-like symptoms. The 25-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico, was treated and released but has not been cleared to drive, pending further evaluation Sunday morning.
Hildebrand hit the wall in Segment 2 qualifying when his No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet jumped the curb on the inside of Turn 8 and slid into the outside barrier. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver was uninjured and will start 12th in Sunday’s race, the 33rd for Indy cars in Toronto dating to the first event in 1986.
A final 30-minute warmup practice is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Live coverage of the 85-lap race commences at 3 p.m. on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with an encore presentation airing at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.
1. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 58.9124 (109.138)
2. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 59.2245 (108.563)
3. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 59.4345 (108.180)
4. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 59.5430 (107.982)
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 59.7970 (107.524)
6. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 1:00.1415 (106.908)
7. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 59.8992 (107.340)
8. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 1:00.0114 (107.140)
9. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 1:00.1202 (106.946)
10. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1:00.1970 (106.809)
11. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 1:00.3384 (106.559)
12. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 1:02.3040 (103.197)
13. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 59.7585 (107.593)
14. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 1:00.0607 (107.052)
15. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 59.8686 (107.395)
16. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 1:00.0926 (106.995)
17. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 59.9820 (107.192)
18. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:00.2713 (106.678)
19. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 1:00.1650 (106.866)
20. (7) Sebastian Saavedra, Honda, 1:00.6272 (106.051)
21. (18) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 1:00.7441 (105.847)