Turning a lap of 195 mph on a short 1-mile oval would be a monumental achievement. Think about that for a moment. The pole for the Daytona 500 – a 2.5-mile superspeedway – was 192.8 mph.
Well Helio Castroneves did just that, turning a lap a tick under 195 mph to win the pole for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix GP IndyCar race at the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway in his Penske Chevy.
His teammate Will Power will start on the outside of row 1.
The Chevy cars are not drag limited like the Hondas and qualified 1-2-3-4-5.
His teammate Will Power will start on the outside of row 1. JR Hildebrand will start 3rd for Ed Carpenter Racing with Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud rounding out the top-5 for Chevy.
Castroneves shattered the lap record he set a year ago on the 1.022-mile oval. It earned the 41-year-old Castroneves his second pole position in four races this season and the 49th of his 20-year Indy car career – tying the Team Penske driver with another legend, Bobby Unser, for third on the all-time list.
Driving the No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet in windy conditions under the lights, Castroneves averaged 194.905 mph (37.7538 seconds) for his two laps, including a record-setting circuit of 18.8701 seconds (194.975 mph). Castroneves will lead the 21-car field to the green flag in Saturday's 250-lap race (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
"People don't realize that qualifying is extremely difficult," Castroneves said. "I took it to the limit – I had one eye closed and one eye open. Experience is a big part of this and today was really, really good.
"The conditions were really difficult today in practice; the gusting winds were horrendous. We worked mostly on the race setup (in practice). My engineer (Jonathan Diuguid) did a phenomenal job and obviously, everybody at Team Penske. The REV Group car was really fast. Qualifying is one thing, the race is another, but I'm really confident going into tomorrow."
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Castroneves led a Chevrolet sweep of the first five qualifying positions. Teammate Will Power, winner of the two Verizon P1 Awards that Castroneves hasn't collected this season, qualified second with a two-lap average speed of 194.017 mph (37.9266 seconds) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
"It's kind of tough going early (in the qualifying order), so I was very apprehensive to go wide open on that first lap," Power said. "Helio actually ran a little less downforce that me – so he trimmed more – so he was really fast.
"We'll see what we can do (in the race). Castroneves can be second and I'll be first. That'd be nice."
JR Hildebrand broke the Team Penske stranglehold by qualifying third in the No. 21 Fuzzy's Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet (193.912 mph). The career-best effort came a week after Hildebrand sat out the race at Barber Motorsports Park while a broken bone in his hand sustained three weeks ago at Long Beach healed enough for him to be medically cleared to drive.
"The car's been good from the (February open) test to rolling out here in practice and I had a good, strong run there," said Hildebrand, whose best previous qualifying effort was fourth at Iowa Speedway in his rookie season of 2011. "It's so difficult to pick your downforce level in these kinds of varied conditions. We saw Helio and those guys roll out with a little less (downforce) than where we were at. But looking towards the race, I think our cars are really good in race trim."
Team Penske drivers Josef Newgarden, the winner last week at Barber, and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud locked down the fourth and fifth positions in qualifying. Tony Kanaan of Chip Ganassi Racing, a two-time winner at Phoenix (2003, '04), was the top Honda qualifier, sixth overall in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda. Scott Dixon, the race winner a year ago when the Verizon IndyCar Series returned to Phoenix following an 11-year absence, qualified eighth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Sebastien Bourdais, the championship points leader following the first three races, qualified 10th in the Dale Coyne Racing No. 18 Sonny's BBQ Honda.
Fans were also treated to exhibition runs by 40 vintage Indy cars as part of the inaugural Vintage Desert Classic, including 10 cars that won at Phoenix and two more that led significant portions before having mechanical failures.
The family aspect of racing was visible throughout the day in the Phoenix Mini Copper Cup as the USAC Quarter midgets staged qualifying and heat races for competitors age 5 to 16 in 13 categories on a temporary 1/20th of a mile oval set up on the DC Solar Power Pavilion.
A full day of racing action continues Saturday with USAC .25 Quarter Midget heat and feature races, and more demonstration runs for older Indy cars as part of the Vintage Desert Classic. The 100-lap Phoenix Copper Cup race takes the green flag at 3 p.m., while the feature event – the 250-lap Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix – is set to begin at 6:30 p.m.
A delayed telecast of qualifying airs at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN, leading into the live race telecast.
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet): "People don't realize that qualifying is extremely difficult. I took it to the limit – I had one eye closed and one eye open. Experience is a big part of this and today was really, really good. The conditions were really difficult today in practice – the gusting winds were horrendous. We worked mostly on the race setup (in practice). My engineer did a phenomenal job and obviously everybody at Team Penske – the REV Group car was really fast. Qualifying is one thing – the race is another – but I'm really confident going into tomorrow."
CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet): "We were pretty stuck – we had way too much downforce. It was very comfortable-still had too much understeer. But it was just too much downforce-I was flat as soon as I got into Turn 1. It was easy-too easy. It's a shame."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "A pretty solid run for us, based on how practice was, especially after the conditions, so we weren't sure what to expect. Big credit to the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports guys – we've been rolling off the truck with a good car all year. For us, we had a little too much understeer on that run; we were flat both laps, pretty secure. I tried adjusting the car a little bit, but 20-second laps around here, you don't have a whole lot of time to make a difference in cockpit control. We'll see where that stacks us up, and if it brings us a top 10 (starting position), that puts us in a decent place."
MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "We had an issue during our run … not the best issue to have especially during qualifying. The car was really good, and that problem happened last minute so it was too late to solve it. Anyway, I'm happy with where we are at the moment, so we'll see how the rest of qualifying goes and where we end up tomorrow."
MAX CHILTON (No. 8 Gallagher Honda): "That was tough tonight. I gave it my best and I was happy with the job I did with the Gallagher car, but we need more and we're going to talk as a team tonight to see what we can do to get better for the race. We had a good result here at Phoenix last year and we're shooting for that again this year."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): "The ambient conditions changed a lot from practice to qualifying. We found a lot and learned that we were a bit too conservative in qualifying. We came up a little short and we know we can trim out a bit more for the race in the NTT Data No. 9. It was a little bit too easy which means we have room to go faster which is good for the race tomorrow."
TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): "We had a good qualifying today. The No. 10 NTT Data Honda looks fast and I'm happy with where we're starting tomorrow. I have a strong track record here at Phoenix, so I definitely think we can get around those Chevys tomorrow and win from sixth."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "Conditions were better (during qualifying) but it was tough going second in line cause of all the dust that had blown on the track. So I was very unsure on the first lap but the Verizon Chevrolet felt really good honestly. Helio (Castroneves) actually ran a little less downforce than me – so he trimmed more – so he was really fast. Good run – good starting position and we'll see what we can do tomorrow."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "I'm disappointed in qualifying. Not sure what happened. The balance wasn't there on the first lap. On the second lap I was pretty good but there was so much difference between the first and second laps speed-wise that it cost us quite a lot of positions I think. But we'll see what we've got and go from there."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda): "It was tough today; the wind played a lot of games. We didn't get a qualifying sim in during practice due to the conditions so we took a flyer, a complete guess, and the rear of the car was actually better than it has been. After what we had been struggling with all day, which was rear-end related, to go into qualifying with a lot of understeer was a shocker. I just didn't anticipate it enough and get the tools adjusted enough. The United Rentals guys are working hard. They will give me good pit stops tomorrow and we'll try to work our way forward."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Sonny's BBQ Honda): "Not a bad run in the Sonny's car, but just not quite good enough. We're kind of fighting amongst ourselves in the Honda camp, and we're P5 in that group. It's OK, it's not great, but at the end of the day it's a tough run. You have to go straight out and all of a sudden you have to pull that lap and get your timing right. I wasn't quite aggressive enough and I didn't quite get the car spooled up enough on Lap 1. We'll keep pushing and see where we end up tomorrow."
ED JONES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): "The Boy Scouts car was pretty good. Obviously, the conditions were much different to practice, a lot cooler and a bit less wind. It was so much cooler that I wasn't quite confident on the first lap and I had a little bit of push and I struggled a bit with understeer but otherwise it was decent. I think we have a better car than where we qualified, so I feel confident we can move forward tomorrow."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "The guys did a great job turning the car back around and having it ready for qualifying. We just didn't have the balance we needed and we'll have to make our way forward from the back of the field tomorrow night."
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "I'm glad to be up there in the top three. The car has been good here from the test to rolling out today for practice. We had a good, strong run. It's so difficult to pick your downforce level in these varied conditions. We saw the Penske guys roll out with a little less than where we were at, but frankly, our cars are really good in race trim. Ed (Carpenter) and the No. 20 car will be hauling it from the back, but he'll be someone to watch in the race for sure."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): "Qualifying was okay – it was a reasonable, I think given the circumstance and the kind of ghastly and unpredictable practice we had. In the qualifying (simulation) we really didn't go that deep and being the first driver of the team we actually went quite conservatively and maybe just paying a little for that now. But I think it's going to be okay."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Oberto/Circle K Honda): "I had the Oberto/Circle K car pretty wrung out for the situation. I didn't get to do a (qualifying) run in practice and that really, really hurt us. I sort of reacted to the glaze of the front tire and had a lot of understeer on the out lap, but that was just the characteristic of the tire coming in so I reacted in the cockpit when I probably shouldn't have. I would have been better just driving it and not touching the cockpit tools – but that's what you learn in practice. Without that, we just sort of went for it. It was really trusting our work, and we do good work in testing. We went back to a setup from two months ago here in testing and it rebounded and that's a good confidence builder going forward."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "We just missed it by a tick – that's all it really takes here. We had just a little bit of an imbalance. It was really tricky earlier today (in practice) with the wind and the gusts and the sand storms. I remember coming out of Turn 4 at one point and it was a wall of orange dust coming at me. It was an interesting day, I've never really had that in a race car. Hopefully we can make the DHL car similar to last year. Last year we had a good run and we made some great passes and restarts. I'm not really sure what to take from today for tomorrow."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Tresiba Honda): "The conditions were really different from this afternoon. The wind slowed down and the ambient really changed from earlier. I think we were a little conservative with how we took the car to qualifying, but I feel really good about the Novo Nordisk car in race trim. I'm confident we'll have a good car for tomorrow night and I'm looking forward to 250 laps of good racing."
ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 Andretti/Curb Honda): "I think I could have gotten more out of the No. 98 tonight. I was expecting (qualifying) to be a lot more complicated than it was, so in hindsight we probably should have been a little more aggressive. With only one practice session and how bad the conditions were earlier, it was logical to be a little bit conservative. There a lot of racing to do tomorrow and we'll try to work our way up."