Hondas again appeared to have the dominant package during practice and qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, with five of the Firestone Fast Six coming from the Honda camp.
But, it was Helio Castroneves in the No. 3 AAA Team Penske Chevrolet who took pole for Sunday’s race on the streets of Long Beach. Castroneves’ pole lap of 1:06.2254, a track record, was set late in the Fast Six session and locked up his third consecutive pole at the event.
“It’s those kids. They keep coming in trying to steal my thunder,” Castroneves laughed. “This qualifying says something about this competition in the paddock, it is so incredible. Plus every time you go out for a session, it’s something different. The track changes, the tires change, there is traffic, something. It is absolutely very different. It is a crucial time. Everyone is within hundredths of a second.
“For me today it was a little bit interesting because the first session was a little tough. We almost didn’t make it through to the second round. But the guys worked and adjusted the car for the next session. After that the car just kept rolling. The car felt pretty good. The way they set my car up was just came alive from this morning. The AAA Chevy is pretty good. My crew is working really hard and so is Chevy in particular. We know our competitors came on strong, but we were able to get a lap, now we will concentrate on tomorrow.”
Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Alexander Rossi, and Graham Rahal completed the Fast Six to put Hondas second through sixth on the grid. For Hunter-Reay and Rossi, their pace further cements Andretti Autosport’s resurrection on the street circuits, which were the organization’s weak point in 2016.
Outside of Castroneves, Team Penske struggled somewhat. Both Josef Newgarden and Will Power failed to advanced to the Fast Six (they will start eighth and ninth respectively), but defending champion Simon Pagenaud suffered the worst fate of the group.
He initially was set to advance out of Round 1 after turning the fastest time in his group. However, he incurred a penalty for interfering with the progress of another driver, none other than teammate Castroneves.
The penalty saw Pagenaud’s two fastest laps wiped from the record and relegated him to last in his group. The defending champion will start Sunday’s race as the last car on the grid in 21st.
Of course, that didn’t work out so bad for Sebastien Bourdais at St. Petersburg, as he went from last to first to win there.
LONG BEACH, California – Qualifying Saturday for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:
1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:06.2254 (106.980)
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:06.4123 (106.679)
3. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:06.4401 (106.634)
4. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:06.5291 (106.492)
5. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:06.5595 (106.443)
6. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:06.7562 (106.129)
7. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:06.5404 (106.474)
8. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:06.6074 (106.367)
9. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:06.6145 (106.355)
10. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:06.6222 (106.343)
11. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:06.6262 (106.337)
12. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:06.7853 (106.083)
13. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:07.5832 (104.831)
14. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:07.3783 (105.150)
15. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:07.6931 (104.661)
16. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 01:07.3893 (105.132)
17. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:07.7977 (104.499)
18. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:07.4699 (105.007)
19. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:07.8442 (104.427)
20. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:07.5333 (104.908)
21. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:08.0439 (104.121)