Pagenaud powers to Detroit pole on primary tires

Photo: IndyCar
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DETROIT – Simon Pagenaud being on pole for a Verizon IndyCar Series race this year isn’t a surprise.

The fact the Frenchman did it on Firestone’s primary black sidewall tires, however, is.

Today the Frenchman and series points leader scored his third Verizon P1 Award of the year in the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Team Penske Chevrolet (Barber, Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course).

Pagenaud’s best lap in the Firestone Fast Six session was a 1:14.9166 around the 2.35-mile Belle Isle Park street circuit in Detroit. While the rest of the runners took shots at him on Firestone’s softer red alternate tires, none was able to top Pagenaud’s time on a hot track. Temperatures were at 78 degrees ambient and 103 on track, per Firestone, after being a much cooler 74/79 respectively for the start of morning practice.

“It was very important to go with this strategy,” Pagenaud explained afterwards. “The reds have the tendency to degrade more here with the concrete. So we were very well balanced on the blacks. I could extract more of myself on the blacks, and it gave us a big advantage.”

Pagenaud and girlfriend Hailey McDermott after Pagenaud won Verizon P1 Award. Photo: IndyCar
Pagenaud and girlfriend Hailey McDermott after Pagenaud won Verizon P1 Award. Photo: IndyCar

An order of normalcy, in a sense, was restored with Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing Teams locking out four of the six Firestone Fast Six spots.

Helio Castroneves starts second in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, having set the track record in Q2 at 1:14.6899 but slower in the Fast Six. Then Juan Pablo Montoya was third in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to make it a Team Penske top three sweep.

The interlopers were James Hinchcliffe in fourth in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda and Carlos Munoz in the No. 26 Magneti Marelli Honda in fifth, the latter having made his first Firestone Fast Six since Mid-Ohio 2014. Scott Dixon completed the Fast Six in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

Will Power, a usual Fast Six regular, slotted into ninth.

Meanwhile the bigger story out of the earlier sessions was a disagreement between Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Hunter-Reay told IndyCar Radio he’d been balked, earlier, by a slowing Sebastien Bourdais while Marco Andretti – who refused to talk on air – reportedly told IndyCar Radio’s Dave Furst that his teammate “effed” him.

Hunter-Reay starts 15th, Andretti 19th, with teammate Alexander Rossi following up his Indianapolis 500 win with 17th on the grid for the first of two races this weekend on Saturday.

Spencer Pigot starts 21st for his first race in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet at Ed Carpenter Racing.

Times are below:

DETROIT – Qualifying Friday for the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit #1 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.35-mile(s) Raceway at Belle Isle Park, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:14.9166 (112.926)
2. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:14.9285 (112.908)
3. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 01:15.5659 (111.955)
4. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:15.7708 (111.653)
5. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 01:16.3897 (110.748)
6. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 01:16.4613 (110.644)
7. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 01:15.5508 (111.978)
8. (83) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 01:15.6712 (111.799)
9. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:15.7142 (111.736)
10. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:15.7172 (111.732)
11. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:16.0998 (111.170)
12. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 01:16.2665 (110.927)
13. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:16.1087 (111.157)
14. (21) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:16.3154 (110.856)
15. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:16.2643 (110.930)
16. (18) Conor Daly, Honda, 01:16.6370 (110.391)
17. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:16.4512 (110.659)
18. (8) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:16.7138 (110.280)
19. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:16.4965 (110.593)
20. (19) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 01:16.9140 (109.993)
21. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:17.6894 (108.895)
22. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 01:18.3918 (107.919)

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”