A dramatic conclusion to qualifying for today’s first race of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader weekend saw Sebastien Bourdais claim his first Verizon IndyCar Series pole of 2014 and Simon Pagenaud crash in Turn 8 as he attempted to take the pole from his fellow Frenchman.
With one minute remaining in the Firestone Fast Six, Helio Castroneves was atop the grid with a 59.1499-second lap. But Team Penske teammate Will Power was able to leap-frog him with a 59.1025 – only to have Bourdais, driving the No. 11 KVSH Racing Chevrolet, knock him off with a 58.9479.
Bourdais’ first pole of the year is also his first in American open-wheel racing since taking a Champ Car pole for a September 2007 race in the Netherlands.
“That was a ballsy call by the team,” Bourdais told IndyCar Radio. “They saw that we might have left a bit early [in the FF6] and the track was getting better.
“Most everybody was waiting behind us and when they said, ‘Alright, pit now, we’re going to put you on a new set of tires and try again,’ I’m like, ‘Okay? You sure about this?’
“And it worked out to perfection. I didn’t believe in it but they made it happen for me, and the Hydroxycut machine was really strong in qualifying today.”
As for Pagenaud, he was pushing hard for a buzzer-beater lap of his own – only to hit the wall coming out of Turn 8 and near the timing line. Luckily for him, he had been able to post the fifth-fastest time in the FF6 before the crash.
Power wound up earning the outside front row spot alongside Bourdais. Behind him in Row 2 will be Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay; Castroneves holds a slim, nine-point lead over Power in the IndyCar standings going into today’s 85-lap race.
Tony Kanaan, who has dominated the last two races only to come away without wins in each of them, will start on the outside of Pagenaud in Row 3.
Hometown hero James Hinchcliffe is further back on the grid, but not much further. The Toronto area native is slated to start ninth today.
“It’s disappointing, because I think the United Fiber and Data car should’ve been up there,” Hinchcliffe said. “I wanted to be a little higher up there for the Canadian fans and get into that Fast Six.
“But we can work from there. This is a street track that you can definitely make some moves on. I’ve seen my boss [team owner Michael Andretti] come from last place and win here, so we’re still optimistic for today.”
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.