Pagenaud flies to Barber pole

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – There was a little bit of diversity in INDYCAR’s new-look Firestone Fast 6 qualifying format but a familiar team on top at the end of qualifying.

Team Penske scored its fourth straight pole to open the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, this time courtesy of Simon Pagenaud at 1:06.7262 in the No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinishes Team Penske Chevrolet, as Pagenaud continues his momentum surge to kick off the Barber weekend.

Pagenaud edged Power on his final lap, with Power’s lap of 1:06.9421 good enough for second in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Power improved from an earlier 1:06.9977, but his last lap wasn’t good enough to beat Pagenaud.

“It was awesome. The car is just incredible – the PPG car – especially on the red Firestone tires,” Pagenaud said. “I really had a good time and was having fun driving it. We put the least amount to fuel in it and tried to save the tires by doing one lap each segment. The car was so good that we went through every segment. On the last lap, I just dug deep. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had driving. That lap was really good.”

Power was first to supplant Scott Dixon’s previous track record when he posted a 1:06.7274 in Q1.

Of course, that mark barely stood before first Dixon, then Sebastien Bourdais beat it in Q2 with a new track record mark of 1:06.6001 in the No. 11 Europa Chevrolet for KVSH Racing.

In the Fast 6, which was changed this week to just a six-minute guaranteed green-flag format, Power was looking the only driver to get back into the 1:06 bracket on the reds.

But that’s before Pagenaud’s lap beat him, and he secured his first Verizon P1 Award since Auto Club Speedway last June.

Pagenaud won the series’ most recent race at Long Beach; defending Barber winner Josef Newgarden starts a season-best third in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet ahead of Dixon, Bourdais and Graham Rahal, who upheld Honda’s honor as the only Honda in the Fast 6. Newgarden, Rahal and Bourdais all made their first Fast 6 appearance of the season.

The surprise of qualifying came during Q1 when Juan Pablo Montoya failed to advance out of his group, likely having missed the setup once on Firestone’s red alternate tires, and was slowest in his group. He’ll start 21st and last on Sunday.

Times are below.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Qualifying Saturday for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Verizon IndyCar Series race on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:06.7262 (124.089)
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:06.9421 (123.689)
3. (21) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:07.0283 (123.530)
4. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 01:07.2083 (123.199)
5. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:07.2965 (123.038)
6. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:07.6388 (122.415)
7. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:07.0129 (123.558)
8. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:07.0955 (123.406)
9. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 01:07.1715 (123.267)
10. (83) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 01:07.3020 (123.028)
11. (8) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:08.0728 (121.634)
12. (19) Luca Filippi, Honda, 01:08.3655 (121.114)
13. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 01:07.2417 (123.138)
14. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 01:07.2360 (123.148)
15. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 01:07.2435 (123.135)
16. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:07.2385 (123.144)
17. (18) Conor Daly, Honda, 01:07.2974 (123.036)
18. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:07.4449 (122.767)
19. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:07.6570 (122.382)
20. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:07.5612 (122.556)
21. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 01:07.5627 (122.553)