IndyCar beats the rain, Castroneves, Penske beats the field in Barber qualifying (VIDEO)

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Helio Castroneves beat the rain and the field for Team Penske’s seventh consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series pole, leading into Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

The driver of the No. 3 AAA Chevrolet set a best time of 1:07.1925 in the truncated final session, the Firestone Fast Six, for his second consecutive pole position and 43rd of his career.

“It’s all about team effort,” Castroneves said. “Today is just another team effort. You can see it’s 1-2-3. Juan Pablo is not there. But for us every practice is qualifying. That help us to push ourselves to be in this position.

Lightning in the area forced the conclusion of the session with less than two minutes remaining, and extra rain popped up before the finish.

The qualifying start time was bumped up five additional minutes from 3:55 p.m. CT and local time to 3:50 p.m. given the impending weather threat, with time in-between sessions also shortened.

Given the rush, and given the NOLA Motorsports Park qualifying session got canceled with the field lining up by entrant points, it seemed drivers were on their best behavior to get the session completed today.

Simon Pagenaud, Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Luca Filippi, Graham Rahal and Sage Karam made it through Group 1 in Q1, with the biggest driver to miss advancing points leader Juan Pablo Montoya – he’ll start 15th on Sunday.

Scott Dixon, who held the track record going into the weekend at 1:06.7750 in 2013, led Group 2 ahead of Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan.

Filippi, Karam, Kimball and Hinchcliffe all advanced to their first Q2 of the year.

In Q2, Power led Castroneves and Pagenaud for a Penske 1-2-3, with Dixon and Kanaan following and Newgarden also advancing into the Firestone Fast Six. Power set a 1:06.8050 in the session, which was the fastest time of qualifying, but not the fastest when the Verizon P1 Award was on the line in Q3.

Castroneves got his lap in ahead of Power, with Pagenaud third to complete the top three sweep. Dixon, Newgarden and Kanaan complete the top six on the grid.

Castroneves expanded on the pole streak (dating to Milwaukee 2014) in the post-qualifying press conference.

“It shows how tough and how proud everybody is. The work has been showing,” he said. “We have a tremendous amount of quality people in the shop. Like I said, it’s details.

“We test here in preseason. We test more than many other circuits. I’m not just saying Penske. It’s actually really gratifying seeing all three guys right there showing that everybody has the best that they could possibly have in this race.

“So it’s the work that’s been paying off.”

Results of qualifying Saturday for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Verizon IndyCar Series event at the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:07.1925 (123.228)
2. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:07.3833 (122.879)
3. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:07.6383 (122.416)
4. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 01:07.6938 (122.315)
5. (67) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:07.8922 (121.958)
6. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 01:07.9426 (121.868)
7. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:07.2462 (123.130)
8. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:07.3903 (122.866)
9. (20) Luca Filippi, Chevrolet, 01:07.6302 (122.431)
10. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:07.6626 (122.372)
11. (83) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 01:07.8405 (122.051)
12. (8) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 01:07.8930 (121.957)
13. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:07.6295 (122.432)
14. (7) James Jakes, Honda, 01:07.9671 (121.824)
15. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 01:07.7235 (122.262)
16. (4) Stefano Coletti, Chevrolet, 01:07.9947 (121.774)
17. (98) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 01:07.8191 (122.089)
18. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:07.9984 (121.768)
19. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 01:08.0082 (121.750)
20. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:08.2541 (121.311)
21. (18) Rodolfo Gonzalez, Honda, 01:08.5259 (120.830)
22. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 01:08.3533 (121.135)
23. (19) Francesco Dracone, Honda, 01:10.1133 (118.095)

Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other and four more finished the race – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

“Amazed is the right word,” Honda Performance Development president David Salters said when asked about reliability. “These are sophisticated cars. It’s not easy. It’s a testament to each group that they did a really good job. It was a fight all the way through the race. I didn’t expect that at all.”

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car. Salters said his

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021 — also in an Acura, which now has three consecutive Rolex 24s). Peter Gregg won the Rolex 24 in 1973, ’75 and ’76 (the 1974 race wasn’t held because of the oil crisis).

Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.