Newgarden leads Penske 1-2-3-4 in Sonoma qualifying
Josef Newgarden led a Team Penske sweep of the top-4 qualifying positions in winning pole for tomorrow's GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. It was the second career pole for the driver of the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and first of 2016.
Will Power was second, three-hundredths behind Newgarden with Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves and Takuma Sato rounding out the top-five. Scott Dixon, who trails Newgarden by four points in the series championship will start sixth tomorrow.
This is Newgarden’s first pole of the season and first as a member of the Team Penske organization.
Newgarden’s lap of 1 minute, 15.5205 seconds (113.691 mph) established a new track record and bested the old record, set by his Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud last year at 1 minute, 16.2530 seconds.
With the pole, Newgarden earned a crucial bonus point and will go into Sunday’s season-finale with a four-point lead on Scott Dixon.
The four Team Penske Chevrolets qualified 1-2-3-4 for the third time this season (Road America, Gateway) and the sixth time since expanding to a four-car team in 2015. The three others were St. Petersburg in 2015 and 2016 and Sonoma in 2016.
This is the 256th Verizon IndyCar Series pole win in the history of Team Penske and the 538th pole for the organization, overall.
"I was just hoping we could get one of these (Verizon P1 Awards) this year," said Newgarden, whose only previous pole came at Milwaukee in 2015. "We've been close a couple times and a couple places I felt like we had the speed to do it and didn't get it done.
"It's cool because this is the Verizon P1 Award and I've been driving the hum by Verizon car many races this year, and I haven't been able to get it in its place."
Power, fifth in the standings and now 69 points behind Newgarden, ran a best lap of 1:15.5556 (113.638 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in the Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying. The lap fell less than four-hundredths of a second shy of giving Power his 51st career pole and seventh this season.
"You start going back through the lap in your head," Power said. "I could have just hit the throttle a little earlier there, would have helped me braking actually, push back. It's tight, it's just like that sometimes. Gave it everything I got."
It set up the dramatic run for the pole. Newgarden - the only Team Penske driver to use a new set of the Firestone alternate tires in the first round - was quickest in the Firestone Fast Six with another lap record completed on a used set of red-sidewall alternates despite his teammates each having a new set of the softer alternates at their disposal.
"We were behind the eight ball there, for sure, after the first round," Newgarden said. "We made the best decision we could as a group. There was no way we couldn't run the reds (in first-round qualifying) because we just had no idea what people were going to run.
"We knew we'd be on our back foot then in the Fast Six, but this car was phenomenal."
Pagenaud, the reigning series champion, wound up third in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1:15.6356 (113.518 mph). Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske a sweep of the first four qualifying positions when he finished fourth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:15.8032, 113.267 mph). It is the third time this season that Penske drivers have owned the top four qualifying positions, also sweeping at Road America in June and Gateway Motorsports Park last month.
Castroneves is third in the championship, now 23 points behind Newgarden. Pagenaud is fourth, 35 points behind the leader.
Takuma Sato qualified fifth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:16.2208, 112.646 mph), just ahead of Dixon in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing (1:16.3978, 112.385 mph). Dixon was the only driver to reach the Firestone Fast Six at all nine road- and street-course events where it was conducted this season.
"The car was kind of decent to drive, but just couldn't carry the speed through the corners," said Dixon, seeking his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship. A win Sunday would accomplish the feat.
"Good to make it through to where we did," Dixon added. "It was definitely hard work, a big credit to the team. Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there. I think in '15 we started ninth when we won that race (and the championship). Definitely you'd want to be a little further up, but that's the way it goes."
A final 30-minute warmup practice at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): "That was really close. I can't be unhappy with the DXC Technology Chevrolet. I thought we had as good a chance as any at the pole, but Josef (Newgarden) and Will (Power) were a little bit faster. Third is not a bad starting position at all. We'll be right there if they make a mistake and right there to apply some pressure. We'll continue to work on the car this evening and tomorrow morning in final practice, then put together our race strategy. We plan for it to be a great day for the No. 1 team, but expect it to be a great day for Team Penske."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "I can't say that I necessarily expected it, but it's really great to get the No. 2 Hum by Verizon Chevy team a Verizon P1 Award. We've had a few chances at it this year, but for various reasons came up a little short. Honestly, I wasn't sure we'd get this one, but we knew the car was fast and it was good to get it done. The track was really gripped up from the earlier race. It was a little slick at first, but after the first lap it was gripped up nicely. That was just part of the job. We need to come back tomorrow and complete the job."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): "The talent of our group is incredible. Great job on Josef Newgarden winning the pole. Our team is really strong and we work really well together. It's really exciting for Team Penske that we will start in the front tomorrow. I'd rather Josef get the pole and we get the victory. For us with the No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet, we wish we had a little more speed during qualifying. We have a great spot up front, but wish we had a little more. It's going to be quite a battle tomorrow with my teammates and Scott Dixon and we are ready for the challenge."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "Not where we wanted to qualify, certainly, but it's been a struggle of a weekend from the get-go. I think we made some progress with the Arrow car in qualifying. Unfortunately on my red (Firestone alternate tire) lap, I bottomed out a little bit and made a mistake as a result, so we lost some time that maybe would have put us through to Segment 2, but maybe not much further than that. Still a little bit of speed missing, but it's a long race tomorrow and tire conservation is going to be key. We'll focus on making a car that's good with our Firestone (tires) and try to move up the ranks tomorrow."
JACK HARVEY (No. 7 AutoNation Honda): "I think we improved the car quite a lot from yesterday to practice three to qualifying. I think, without a doubt, we had speed to transition from our (qualifying) group. I found traffic on a lap, and I think they could have moved out of the way, honestly, and I think that ruined my track position which forced me to back off and miss the peak of the tire. Just time left on the table when I feel like all weekend we've been making progress, and to have that in that session, it was disappointing. It's been one of those weekends where we've struggled a bit, but then we kind of found the pace but everything else didn't really come with it. We ended up qualifying 10th in group, which is not what we came here to do. The AutoNation Sirius XM guys have been working really hard to find us a better solution, and I think we've done that. Tomorrow we'll learn as much as we can, get to the checkered flag, and hopefully get my pink machine closer to the front than where we started."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): "I think the air temperature change might have thrown us off a bit. The NTT Data car was good this morning, but then we just didn't have the grip. We were lucky to find a few things and scrape through the qualifying rounds. I actually made a big mistake in Turn 3 that costed us some time, but I don't think it would have put us close to the top, maybe just up one more position. I think we're the best of the rest today, but the race is tomorrow and there is a lot that can happen between the start and the checkered flag. I'm looking forward to it."
TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): "I think we're just still pretty far off from where we need to be to make sure we're competitive this weekend. We barely made it out of the first round and we tried a setup change in the second round that obviously didn't work for us. I guess the silver lining here is that we learned something from that setup change we made during qualifying that we can definitely use in the race tomorrow."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "Qualifying was really great for the No. 12 Verizon Chevy crew and I. It was really just awesome for all of Team Penske with Josef Newgarden winning the pole and the rest of us starting up front. We had a little mistake in qualifying that set us back a bit that could have gotten us more speed but starting second isn't bad. We'll work hard tomorrow to get the car in the best possible spot to keep us up front. We need to do everything we can to stay up front to challenge to win the race and if things really go our way, we could have a shot at the championship. We're ready to see what happens."
ZACHARY CLAMAN DEMELO (No. 13 Paysafe Honda): "Today was really enjoyable. I made some good progress throughout the day. I was pretty far off in the practice before qualifying, but we made some changes to the car and I got better. I made some changes to my driving and I was only two-tenths off of making it through to the second qualifying round, so I think it was a good result. I will keep working on the car and myself for tomorrow."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "We just haven't been there this weekend. The group was quite hard. In the second group everyone went faster. It is a long race tomorrow and anything can happen (as) the tire degradation is a lot here on this track. We have some work to do and we'll see what we have tomorrow."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals / SoldierStrong Honda): "We have just been a little off this weekend. Our United Rentals guys have worked extremely hard this weekend and the engineering staff has done a great job. We have thrown everything you can imagine at this car and we just can't seem to make much of a difference.Today we really closed the gap; yesterday we were not this close. I'm proud of everyone here at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for keeping focused and putting us in a good spot for tomorrow. My gap to (Alexander) Rossi was only a couple thousandths (of a second) and only another couple of thousands to (Ryan) Hunter-Reay ahead of him. And (Scott) Dixon was only nine-hundredths ahead, so it's tight. INDYCAR racing is the tightest, most competitive motorsport in the world. We've proven that time and time again and today is no different. The Penske's are solid. We're going to have our work cut out for us tomorrow, but hopefully we will find ourselves in front again."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 UNIFIN Honda): "It's disappointing. I think the team did a good job with the car at the test. Then we came back and we felt strong and we were looking really good, but then the Firestone reds (alternate tires) happened. We keep on trying to find things to make them work, but we're losing track of things and it feels like we're drifting and not really identifying what's the cause. It's tough because you don't have enough time to work with them. I'm sure we'd find a solution, but not in the short amount of time you have. You just have to make a lap time happen and I can't do that, so it's tough, but we'll see what happens tomorrow."
SPENCER PIGOT (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "We've been struggling to find grip all weekend and we definitely didn't find it in qualifying. We'll go back to the drawing board tonight and try to get this Fuzzy's Vodka Chevy a little more competitive for tomorrow."
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "It's nice to be back at Sonoma, for sure. Unfortunately, we've been struggling at these permanent road courses this year. We rolled off the truck and and felt okay on the test day. We were running mid-pack for a lot of the day and we felt like we were going to be able to continue to make the car better and find some gains. We've been trying a lot of the right things, but it just seems like something is missing. It's frustrating, especially being back here on home turf, not to just be more competitive all together. We've got some options for the race tomorrow, it's always a long race. If we can look after our tires, we'll have a good run. Hopefully, we can finish out the season with a solid final result."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): "It was a fantastic feeling. Obviously, the fifth position isn't pole position but I think looking at the speed of the competitors, we achieved what we could do. I think certainly, the entire Andretti Autosport and No. 26 guys did a enormous, fantastic job so I'm really happy with them and we got it done all together."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda): "We made it through the first round pretty strongly. I think we had the speed and could have been right there with my teammates, but I locked it up coming into (Turn) 4 and that was enough to lose some ground. It's on me. When the competition and the times are this close, every little bit can make a big difference."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "We were just on the wrong side of it today, eight-hundredths of a second would have put us through (to the Firestone Fast Six). We made a couple changes to try and calm the rear down a bit, but I think we ended up taking some speed out of the DHL car. It's such a fine line in the Verizon IndyCar Series, especially at Sonoma, with how close the competition is. We're just barely on the outside - eight-hundredths of a second."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Tresiba Honda): "We made some changes that were in the wrong direction today for qualifying. We'll definitely have to unwind some of those tomorrow for the warmup session and the race. Scott (Dixon) made it through to the top six, so that's good for Chip Ganassi Racing. We'll look at what he was able to do in qualifying and try to learn from his data. I just wasn't able to get the lap time I needed out of the Tresiba Honda today. It's always tough when you know you want to be going quicker than the lap times you're doing, but we'll figure it out and be ready for tomorrow."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN, NO. 2 HUM BY VERIZON CHEVROLET – Pole Winner
WHEN YOU LEARNED YOU WON THE POLE, WHAT DID YOU SAY?
“I don’t know what I said.”
YOU SAID, ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME?’
I don’t even remember what I said, to be honest with you. I was just hoping we could get one of these this year. We’ve been close a couple of times. At a couple of places I felt we had the speed to do it and we didn’t get it done. And, today we had our backs against the wall. You know, we were making the best decisions we could. We were first out. I think it would have been risky for us to save a set of reds like the second group. And we knew we knew we’d be on our back foot there in the Fast Six. But, this car was phenomenal. It’s cool because this is the Verizon P-1 award. I’ve been driving a Hum car many races this year by Verizon and I haven’t been able to get it in this place, so I’m happy to have those guys on board. They do so much for this sport. And it’s a good start for our weekend.”
YOUR TEAMMATES ALL HAD STICKER REDS IN THE FIRESTONE FAST SIX. DID YOU THINK AT ALL ABOUT TRYING TO GET THROUGH ROUND 2 ON THAT SET OF SCUF REDS; AND THEN HOW DID YOU BEAT THEM ON SCUFS IN THE FAST SIX?
“Well, I asked the question. I think we were all thinking maybe we can do something to get those new reds for the Fast Six. I think for us, it was too risky of a play. And we didn’t want to put ourselves further back than the top 6. We knew if we could secure that, we’d be good. So, we didn’t want to do it. But then we were like, we’re going to have to take our medicine. We made our bed already from the first round. Like I said, the car was so good we did two attempts on both red tires and that second set of reds was just money. It was too good.”
DOES THIS EASE ANYTHING GOING INTO TOMORROW? DOES THIS CHANGE YOUR OUTLOOK OR YOUR APPROACH OR YOUR EMOTIONAL PERSPECTIVE?
“No, this is IndyCar racing. Anything can happen. So, we’ve checked one thing off the box this weekend. We’ve got one big one to check off tomorrow. And then, if everything goes according to plan, we’ll see where we end up at the end.”
HAVE YOU ALLOWED YOURSELF TO THINK ABOUT A CHAMPIONSHIP YET?
“You always think about it. If you tell me not to think about it, I’m going to think about it. So, it’s difficult to not envision it, but I think for us, we’ve got to get through the race. We’ve got to have a good race car. Qualifying is one thing. Having speed is one thing. Winning the race is a whole other deal. So, we’re going to work hard with this Team Penske group. We’ve got four guys very capable of getting it done. For the Captain and for everyone at the factory, we want to make sure one of these Team Penske cars wins the championship. So, that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.”
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