LONG BEACH, Calif. – With the sun shining on the beaches of Southern California, the 21 Verizon IndyCar Series cars glistened around the 1.968-mile Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach street circuit, but it was 2001 race winner Helio Castroneves who walked away with the brightest day on track.
The Team Penske driver captured his second consecutive Verizon P1 Award of the Verizon IndyCar Series season and second straight pole at Long Beach with a top lap of 1 minute, 7.1246 seconds (105.547 mph) during Firestone Fast Six qualifications. The pole is the third overall for Castroneves at Long Beach and 47th of his Indy car career, fourth all-time in the sport's history and two behind Bobby Unser (49) for third in the record book.
Castroneves, driving the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet, will be joined on the front row in Sunday's race by Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon (1:07.4455, 105.405 mph), the defending Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion. Castroneves' three Penske teammates, Simon Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power, all qualified in the top six as well as Dixon's teammate, Tony Kanaan.
“I’m very happy, first of all, for the AAA of Southern California car,” said Castroneves, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner. “We’ve been good all weekend long, we’ve been working together all weekend long. I would say Team Penske probably had the upper hand. At the end of the day, the No. 3 (car) ended up in P1.”
The morning practice session saw Team Penske sweep the top four spots. Power, the 2014 series champion and two-time Long Beach winner, paced the field with a best lap of 1:06.8892 in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet, leading many to believe Castroneves’ 2015 track record of 1:06.6294 would fall in qualifying. Dixon, in the No. 9 Target Chevrolet, came close to doing so in the second segment of qualifying that determined the Firestone Fast Six competitors with a lap less than two-hundredths of a second shy of Castroneves' standard.
The Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying, was interrupted by a red flag when Power went off course at Turn 9. By rule, Power's best two laps of the session were forfeited for causing the stoppage and he was not allowed to continue. The Fast Six restarted with less than a minute remaining on the 10-minute clock, with INDYCAR permitting each of the five remaining cars to run one timed lap.
Castroneves' pole winner, however, was logged before the red flag. The result snagged Team Penske its 19th pole position in the last Verizon IndyCar Series 22 races, dating to 2014, and the second in a row for an elated Castroneves.
“Will was definitely in a league of his own and he seems to be putting up phenomenal laps,” Castroneves said. “But in the end, you saw Dixon up there, you saw Kanaan up there, Juan Pablo, Simon. It was a mix but I’ll take it. Definitely, AAA of Southern California and the entire Chevy team did a phenomenal job. But, hey, it’s the right spot to start so let’s keep it.”
Dixon qualifying second had him “stoked, considering how we started this weekend,” he said. “We tried a totally different setup from last year. The cars have changed, especially aerodynamically, so we thought we might need some different things, but that wasn’t the case.
“We could have had (the pole) if the qualifying had carried through (without the red flag). We had the speed for pole, but front row is a good place to start and hopefully we can replicate the race from last year.”
Pagenaud will start third in the No. 22 PPG Automotive Finish Chevrolet (1:07.7410); Kanaan fourth in the No. 10 NTT Data Chevy (1:07.7951); Montoya, the 1999 Long Beach winner, will go off fifth in the No. 2 Verizon Chevy (1:07.9054); and Power sixth (no time in the Firestone Fast Six due to the penalty).
James Hinchcliffe, in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry, was the top Honda qualifier in seventh with a lap of 1:07.1415 in Segment 2.
"Today was a really good day," said Hinchcliffe. "We rolled off the truck with a good car on Friday and I'm really proud of the Arrow Electronics guys for the prep that they did because the car was a rocket right from the get-go. We've just been making little tweaks to it, trying to get into a position to be fighting for the Firestone Fast Six, and we did. We finished seventh."
Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action Sunday for a final 30-minute warm-up session at noon ET (streamed live at RaceControl.IndyCar.com). Coverage of Sunday’s 80-lap race begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network (network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com), where the 21-car field will battle it out on one of the most prestigious street circuits in the world.