Penske’s quartet pushes each other en route to qualifying dominance

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ST. PETERSBURG – If there is an intra-team rivalry at Team Penske between its four drivers, it hasn’t yet come to the surface.

In the wake of an unprecedented 1-2-3-4 sweep in the team’s first qualifying session as a four-car operation, ahead of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, all four of “The Captain’s” men took the opportunity to praise each other rather than taking any shots.

Well, almost all the time.

“We’re having a good time,” said new recruit Simon Pagenaud, to which Juan Pablo Montoya replied, “Are we?” to much laughter.

Other than that, the compliments were flowing like the furious, fast lap times on the 1.8-mile street circuit.

“We basically worked a little bit harder than what we thought,” said Helio Castroneves, who qualified third behind polesitter and defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power and Pagenaud. “I have three other very good guys in the team which is good because each one tries something different.”

“Really, we pushed each other so hard in testing,” added Montoya, who in fourth was actually the lowest placed of the quartet.

The Penske dominance rubbed off so much that it even caused a Freudian slip by INDYCAR PR ace Kate Guerra, who accidentally referred to KVSH Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais as a Team Penske driver in introducing him to the dais.

“I don’t drive for Team Penske… if I did I’d be slowest of them, and that wouldn’t be good,” Bourdais joked, after qualifying sixth and the best non-Penske Chevrolet in the field.

It was that kind of day.

Pagenaud praised the immediate and instant team chemistry.

“What Juan said is true,” said the Frenchman. “It’s almost easier for us because there is a lot of data available to us.”

Power continued his St. Petersburg qualifying dominance with his fifth pole in the last six years, and his 37th overall in IndyCar. He seeks his third win at the track Sunday.

For the others, though, the qualifying was a marked improvement over recent years in St. Petersburg.

Pagenaud – for whatever reason – has struggled in qualifying at St. Pete with starts of 16th, 19th and 14th in the last three years. The first of those three was actually a sixth place qualifying effort, but with a 10-spot grid penalty for an unscheduled engine change.

Montoya could be excused for an 18th place qualifying last year, in his first open-wheel race in eight years and his first IndyCar start since 2000.

Castroneves, a three-time St. Petersburg race winner, qualified only 10th a year ago, so he made a seven-spot leap year-on-year.

It’s likely game on between the Penske quartet on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET), although as Power noted, the timing of yellows can often alter the complexion of the race.

“It’s like a drive-through you get hit with if a yellow comes out and the pits close,” Power said, “so maybe I need to run away and hide.”

If Penske can end as they qualified, they’ll emulate the feat achieved by Andretti Green Racing – now Andretti Autosport – 10 years ago at St. Petersburg in 2005. The late Dan Wheldon led Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta, to complete the only 1-2-3-4 race sweep in IndyCar history.