Team Penske qualifies for season finale like it did for season opener: 1-2-3-4

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In one of the most unique twists of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, Team Penske is ending things the way it started out: 1-2-3-4.

That’s the same way Team Penske qualified for the season opener at St. Petersburg. Will Power took the pole (although missed the race with concussion-like symptoms), Simon Pagenaud was second, followed by Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya.

And now, as we prepare for Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Team Penske has again qualified and will start the race in 1-2-3-4 order.

This time, it’ll be Pagenaud on the pole, followed by Castroneves, Montoya and Power.

“What a great job by Team Penske to qualify 1-2-3-4,” Castroneves said Saturday. “It just shows how well we are working together.”

Added Montoya, “It’s nice to see Penske sweep the front two rows. I know we did it in St. Pete but didn’t start that way after Will couldn’t race. It’s neat to be a part of.”

While the big story of the day will end with the determination of whether Pagenaud or Power wins the championship, its start is rather unique in IndyCar annals.

But at the same time, however, Team Penske’s qualifying achievement isn’t a complete surprise. In this season’s 16 races, when it comes to Fast 6 showings, Pagenaud leads with nine, followed by Power with eight, Castroneves with seven and Montoya with four.

More so, as a team, the Penske boys have earned 28 of 60 total Fast 6 appearances this season. In addition to the 1-2-3-4 qualifying efforts at St. Petersburg and Sonoma, they also were part of the half-dozen fast pack in one other race.

Castroneves said he was “pretty confident” that he had won the pole, but Pagenaud’s late-session final run not only displaced Castroneves, it also earned Pagenaud another point for earning the pole.

Pagenaud now comes into Sunday’s race with a 44-point margin over Power for the championship, as opposed to the 43-point edge it had been coming into this weekend. With double points at stake, every extra point counts.

“What a dream season, seven poles, I mean it’s unbelievable,” Pagenaud said. “Obviously, I’m super excited. I knew we could do it, but this has not been my favorite track in the past (this is his first career pole at Sonoma). It doesn’t seem to be the case anywhere anymore.

“… That is what I call the animal instincts and you don’t think, you just go. This is the best moment when you can drive this way.”

Added Castroneves, “Man, that was so close! We’ve been fast all weekend and we showed it again today in qualifying. We felt good with our approach and the car was really consistent. I made just a little mistake and that probably cost us in the end because Simon was so fast, especially on red tires. Congratulations to Simon – that is good for him in the championship.”

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X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E
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Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.