Lineup set for today’s Shell/Pennzoil GP of Houston Race 1 (SPOILER)

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Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this morning’s qualifying for Race 1 of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.

NBCSN will air the qualifying rounds today at 2 p.m. ET, followed by LIVE coverage of Race 1 at 3 p.m. ET.

If you don’t want to know who won the pole until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…

Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner Simon Pagenaud’s lap of 59.3716 seconds was enough to earn the pole position for today’s first race of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Carrying over his strong speed from yesterday’s practice sessions (second in Practice 1, first in Practice 2), Pagenaud was able to out-hustle Helio Castroneves in the final moments of qualifying for his first career Verizon IndyCar Series pole.

“The car is awesome. Since yesterday, we’ve been top two in every session and now, pole position,” Pagenaud told IndyCar Radio. “My first pole position in IndyCar – we’ve been close but now it feels like the car is the fastest in the field today.

“[Today’s race is] going to be physical. It’s not as hot as yesterday right now, so it’s OK. But it’s certainly going to be a long race. You’ll have to keep your mind really clear and focused. But we have a great car, so that should make it easier on me.”

As for Castroneves, he’ll have clean track ahead of him to start as he seeks to erase the disastrous Houston weekend from last October that effectively cost him the 2013 series title.

“The Shell/Pennzoil car looks really strong right now,” said Castroneves, who split wins with Team Penske teammate Will Power in IndyCar’s most recent doubleheader at Detroit.

“It’s a shame we just missed [pole] by a bit, but it’s the way it is. It’s a great starting position for sure, and we’re looking forward.”

Scott Dixon will start on the inside of Row 2, with Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Luca Filippi alongside him after a stellar qualifying run in the No. 16 Honda. James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato will line up in Row 3.

In regards to the championship, Power – the current points leader – could be in for a tough afternoon. One of the top road/street course racers in the paddock, Power was unable to get out of the first round and will start 18th on the grid for today’s race.

Power currently leads the standings by 39 points over Castroneves and 60 points over Ryan Hunter-Reay. Hunter-Reay, trying to break a string of bad results following his Indianapolis 500 win last month, will start eighth today with Justin Wilson in Row 4.

SHELL/PENNZOIL GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON – RACE 1
Starting Grid
Row 1
1. 77-Simon Pagenaud
2. 3-Helio Castroneves
Row 2
3. 9-Scott Dixon
4. 16-Luca Filippi
Row 3
5. 27-James Hinchcliffe
6. 14-Takuma Sato
Row 4
7. 19-Justin Wilson
8. 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay
Row 5
9. 11-Sebastien Bourdais
10. 7-Mikhail Aleshin
Row 6
11. 2-Juan Pablo Montoya
12. 67-Josef Newgarden
Row 7
13. 83-Charlie Kimball
14. 15-Graham Rahal
Row 8
15. 8-Ryan Briscoe
16. 25-Marco Andretti
Row 9
17. 20-Mike Conway
18. 12-Will Power
Row 10
19. 18-Carlos Huertas
20. 17-Sebastian Saavedra
Row 11
21. 98-Jack Hawksworth
22. 10-Tony Kanaan
Row 12
23. 34-Carlos Munoz

NOTE: All drivers starting today’s race on alternate “red” Firestone tires except Saavedra.

Bourdais hopes last year’s crash turns into Indy 500 Cinderella story on Sunday

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Sebastien Bourdais has relived his May 20, 2017 crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifying over and over in his mind, day after day, week after week and month after month.

He would think of the worst crash of his open-wheel racing career at least once — if not several times — a day, particularly when he’d experience a slight twinge of pain.

“I think about it every day,” Bourdais told MotorSportsTalk. “Even though I’m functionally 100 percent now, it’s still very rare that during the day that there’s not a little pinch or something that reminds me of what happened.”

But this past weekend while qualifying for this year’s 500, one year later, the French driver said he was finally able to work past the mental roadblock that just would not leave his mind.

The solution was simple: complete the task he wasn’t able to do so last year, namely, qualifying for the race – and qualifying well.

Bourdais will start fifth in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, in the middle of Row 2.

“(Last year’s crash is) still in my mind,” Bourdais said. “But I think the biggest hurdle, at least mentally, was qualifying last weekend, putting yourself back in the same set of circumstances, going back on the line there.

“It felt a little bit the same, chances of rain, some rain, delays, you get back in line, conditions change, everything gets harder because it gets hotter, but that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome. After that, it’s back to business.”

Bourdais has already won once in 2018 – the season-opening race in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.

It helped jump start him to a strong overall run in the first five races of the season, including a fourth-place showing two weeks ago at the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis, coupled with entering the 500 third in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.

Now, he wants to win the biggest race of his career. If he does so, he’ll feel as if he finally and completely has come full circle from last year’s devastating wreck that shattered his pelvis, going head-on into the Turn 2 wall at a reported 228 mph.

“Well, it’s the Holy Grail of IndyCar, it doesn’t really get any bigger than that,” Bourdais said of the 500. “It’s the biggest achievement that you can accomplish in IndyCar.

“I don’t think I’m any different than anybody else: we all want to win it pretty bad, but I’m sure after what happened after last year, it’d be a Cinderella story.”

But there’s a caveat to Bourdais writing that story: “There’s 32 other drivers that want to accomplish the same thing, and it’s a one day event. We’ll give it our best shot … you can only give your very best and see what happens on that given day.”

Bourdais has a lot going for him heading into Sunday. First off, he’ll start from the highest qualifying position he’s ever had in what will be the seventh Indy 500 of the 39-year-old’s racing career.

Second, his confidence and comfort level are higher than they’ve ever been coming into the annual classic at the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval.

Third, he’s forgiven himself – not IMS – for what happened last year. He has no ill feeling towards the racetrack, nor does he seek revenge. If he were to start thinking that way, it would serve no positive purpose.

“No. I’m not really that way,” he said when asked if he wants revenge over the racetrack. “The track didn’t beat me up, I beat myself.

“The bottom line is there were a couple of reasons why it happened, but I got more comfortable and more confident and confidence and comfort at some point just bite you at Indy.

“You just do your laps, you get into such a rhythm and the week had gone perfectly with an awesome car and there was not a doubt in my mind it was going to stick (going into Turn 2), and that’s when it happened – and I paid the price.”

So, Bourdais is simply going to go out and race, again, hoping to complete what he started last year before being so painfully derailed.

His best finish to date in the 500 has been seventh (2014). He just needs for his Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser – Sullivan Honda to finish six places higher on Sunday.

And if he does, his move to Dale Coyne Racing last year – he’s competed in 13 of 23 races with two wins, 3 podiums and one pole – would only serve to make what already has proven to be a great move into a potentially brilliant move.

Because, yes, Bourdais isn’t just thinking Indy 500 win, he’s also thinking of a potential championship this season.

“I sure hope so,” Bourdais said when asked if his team’s success will continue. “I like to say it’s (the success that the Coyne camp has had since he came there) a little bit of my baby, bringing in Craig (engineer Craig Hampson) and Olivier (race engineer Olivier Boisson) and reinforcing the existing crew.”

Bourdais is no stranger to winning championships. He won four straight combined titles in CART and the Champ Car World Series from 2004 through 2007 (he also won 28 races in that four-year span).

“Obviously, it’s one thing to get into a winning team and basically meet expectations,” Bourdais said. “It’s another thing to try and build something and change the status of the underdog and turn him into a contender week in and week out.

“We got a glimpse of that last year, and this year, we’ve been competitive every weekend so far, and that’s a great feeling. Once you’re able to be competitive on street course, road courses, short ovals and superspeedways, then you can start saying and thinking championship.”

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