Pagenaud takes Menards Penske car to Indy GP pole

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INDIANAPOLIS – Simon Pagenaud’s incredible form to kick off the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season rolled on Friday with his second straight Verizon P1 Award for Saturday’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. It’s the fourth of his career.

Pagenaud, who’s in his fourth different livery of the year with the fluorescent, dayglo bright yellow Menards colors now adorning his No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, set the best time in the Firestone Fast Six session with a best time of 1:08.6868.

It’s also Team Penske’s fifth straight pole to start the year, same as they did last year.

“It’s fantastic. It’s not that simple, it’s a lot of work in the background. I just want to take my hat off to my engineer, Ben Bretzman, for giving me a monster car every time,” he said.

“As soon as I put those Firestone red (alternate) tires on the car, she became magical, as we imagined. It’s a lot of fun for me right now, the whole team is functioning so well. The decision process from (strategist) Kyle Moyer to do one lap each segment was all him. It’s really a team sport.

“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in racing. I’m driving the best I’ve driven ever. Little by little, you get confidence with success. Team Penske, they give me the best car. If I drive it well, you should expect to be up there. To be up there so often is certainly the best feeling in the world.”

An abnormal remainder of the Fast Six followed with Charlie Kimball qualifying a career-best second in the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet, ahead of James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda), Josef Newgarden (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet), Graham Rahal (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan with Theodore Racing Honda) and Jack Hawksworth (No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda), all of whom posted season-best qualifying efforts.

However, as was later revealed late Friday night, the Newgarden and Rahal cars failed post-qualifying technical inspection and were sent to the back of the grid.

Q1 witnessed a few surprises. Hawksworth paced his group, Group 1, ahead of Scott Dixon, Kimball, Sebastien Bourdais, Mikhail Aleshin and Juan Pablo Montoya. Meanwhile Helio Castroneves missed out, as did the three Andretti Autosport drivers that were in the session.

In Group 2, Will Power set a new track record with a best time of 1:08.6746. Power’s previous track record was 1:09.4886 set last year. Pagenaud was second ahead of Newgarden, with Hinchcliffe, Rahal and Tony Kanaan next.

Although frustrated to miss out, Alexander Rossi, Matthew Brabham, JR Hildebrand and Spencer Pigot were next up. A surprising absence was Takuma Sato, who’s been decently quick this weekend.

Q2 is where things got a bit crazier. Pagenaud led the session but those who got eliminated included Kanaan, Montoya, Dixon, Bourdais, Aleshin and Power. Neither Dixon nor Power got a particularly clean lap.

Pagenaud laid down a lap more than three tenths clear of the field in the Firestone Fast Six session with Kimball next, Hinchcliffe third ahead of Newgarden, Rahal and Hawksworth.

Times are below.

INDIANAPOLIS – Qualifying Friday for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:08.6868 (127.832)
2. (83) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 01:08.9816 (127.286)
3. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:09.2260 (126.837)
4. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 01:09.5141 (126.311)
5. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 01:09.2511 (126.791)
6. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 01:09.2645 (126.766)
7. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 01:09.4010 (126.517)
8. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:09.4436 (126.439)
9. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 01:09.6771 (126.016)
10. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:09.9297 (125.560)
11. (8) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:09.3289 (126.648)
12. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:09.1475 (126.981)
13. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:09.4947 (126.346)
14. (61) Matt Brabham, Chevrolet, 01:09.2944 (126.712)
15. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:09.5276 (126.287)
16. (6) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:09.4377 (126.450)
17. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 01:09.6457 (126.072)
18. (16) Spencer Pigot, Honda, 01:09.4591 (126.411)
19. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:09.7478 (125.888)
20. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:09.4659 (126.399)
21. (35) Alex Tagliani, Honda, 01:10.4109 (124.702)
22. (18) Conor Daly, Honda, 01:09.4795 (126.374)
23. (19) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 01:09.7720 (125.844)
24. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, No time
25. (21) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, No time

Note: Times for Rahal and Newgarden were disallowed for violating Rule 14.3.1.1 (Minimum car weight)

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.