Castroneves wins third straight pole in Long Beach

Helio Castroneves charges to pole
Helio Castroneves celebrates his third straight pole in Long Beach

There was only one Chevy that made it into the Fast Six final qualifying round for the 43rd running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The rest were Honda powered cars. But when the final round was over it was Castroneves and Chevy that claimed his 48th career pole with a lap of 1m06.2254s. The Hondas of Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal followed.

It was the third straight pole on the streets of Long Beach for Castroneves. Castroneves got out of his car early in the session and watched as the other drivers tried to knock him off. No one could and Castroneves had another pole.

While a Honda did not win the pole, Hondas took 6 of the top-7 starting spots and 7 of the top-10.

Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi actually turned faster laps in the 2nd round of qualifying with laps of 1m06.2285s and 1m06.2288s that would have put them 2nd and 3rd on the grid, but they did not have anymore brand new sets of red left in the Fast Six round to repeat those times. Dixon, however, was still fast enough to start 2nd but Rossi dropped down to 5th.

In the Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying, Castroneves pushed his No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street course in a sizzling 1 minute, 6.2254 seconds (106.980 mph). It earned the 41-year-old Brazilian his third straight Long Beach pole and the 48th of his 20-year career, leaving Castroneves one behind fellow legend Bobby Unser for third on the all-time list.

"This competition in the Verizon IndyCar Series, it's so incredible," Castroneves said. "It's ridiculous, plus every time you go into a session, it's something different. The track changes, the tires change, traffic. It is absolutely very difficult. The crucial time when it comes, you see everybody hundredths of a second separated from each other.

"My car felt pretty good. Especially with the reds (Firestone alternate tires), my car came alive from this morning, so the AAA Chevy is working really hard."

Castroneves is one of seven previous Long Beach winners entered this year, but his victory at the premier North American street-course race came 16 years ago. He aims to change that in Sunday's 85-lap race (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network), the 34th straight year for Indy cars in the Southern California city.

"Today is extra special because Long Beach is a great place," the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said. "I remember winning here from the pole in 2001 and, the last two years, we were right there. We're not going to let this escape again."

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Scott Dixon, the four-time series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing, qualified second with a lap of 1:06.4123 (106.679 mph). The driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda was the first to break the track standard in Segment 2 of qualifying with a lap of 1:06.2285 as 11 of the 12 competing in the round ran laps better than Castroneves' 2015 record of 1:06.6294.

"Qualifying second is a great spot to start," said Dixon, who won at Long Beach in 2015 but has never captured the pole in 11 tries. "I think our cars are typically good on the long run. I think we have a great shot at competing for the race win tomorrow."

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2010 Long Beach winner, qualified third in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport (1:06.4401, 106.634 mph), ahead of James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda (1:06.5291, 106.492 mph), Alexander Rossi in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian (1:06.5595, 106.443 mph) and Graham Rahal in the No. 15 PennGrade Motor Oil Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1:06.7562, 106.129 mph).

Simon Pagenaud, the reigning Long Beach race winner and Verizon IndyCar Series champion, had what would have been a track record erased in Segment 1 when he was penalized for qualifying interference on teammate Castroneves. Pagenaud will start last in the 21-car field in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

"It was just one of those unfortunate things," Pagenaud said. "I understand the penalty because I interfered with Castroneves' lap. I backed up a little to set up a second lap on the (Firestone alternate tires) and Helio was right there. I was boxed in; there was nothing I could do.

"The Menards Chevy was fantastic. We'll start from the back. St. Petersburg was won from the back (by Sebastien Bourdais on March 12) and we'll try to do that, too."

QUOTES

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): "It was just one of those unfortunate things. I understand the penalty because I interfered with (Helio) Castroneves' lap. I backed up a little to set up a second lap on the (alternate tires) and Helio was right there. I was boxed in; there was nothing I could do. The Menards Chevy was fantastic. We'll start from the back. St. Petersburg was won from the back and we'll try to do that, too."

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "The Hum by Verizon Chevrolet was good enough to transfer, but we just couldn't make it happen. It's nothing to spend a lot of time thinking about. We just need to move on to Sunday and get to the front. The car is plenty fast. We'll see what we can do strategy-wise and see how the cautions fall and make some decisions from there."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Team Penske Chevrolet): "This competition in the Verizon IndyCar Series, it's so incredible. It's ridiculous, plus every time you go into a session, it's something different. The track changes, the tires change, traffic… It is absolutely very difficult. The crucial time when it comes, you see everybody hundredths of a second separated from each other. My car felt pretty good. Especially with the reds (Firestone alternate tires), my car came alive from this morning, so the AAA Chevy is working really hard. Today is extra special because Long Beach is a great place. I remember winning here from the pole in 2001 and, the last two years, we were right there. We're not going to let this escape again."

CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet): "We made big steps forward from St. Pete which is nice. We're starting several positions higher than we did then which is good. But I'm just disappointed a little bit in myself because I went a little bit wide and just got a little bit of the marbles from the race previously on my tires off the exit of Turn 9, so lost a bit of time. I don't know if it would have been enough to make it into the top 12. We're still fighting a little bit of oversteer in the car so hopefully we can continue to build on what we're doing and just have a good race tomorrow."

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "Our weekend has been pretty solid. We rolled off the truck with a pretty decent car. In these weekends when it's so tight, the track time is so limited, that's huge. Yesterday afternoon, we had a little bit of problems. This morning we had a couple problems but we didn't panic. Huge credit to Schmidt Peterson Motorsport. Two Firestone Fast Six appearances for two, which is great. It's just so tight. I think that's been the topic of the weekend, for sure, is how competitive it is. You got to be, I think, in the top Six to have a shot at this thing. There's a lot of great cars up there. Going to be perfect execution tomorrow, in the pits, on the racetrack. Hopefully, we can get the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda to the front."

MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "Well obviously, qualifying ended early for us. Unfortunately, I think that's all we had today. I hope that we are going to have a good car for tomorrow and a good warm up in the morning. The race is obviously the most important, so that's what we'll focus on and hope for good results."

MAX CHILTON (No. 8 Gallagher Honda): "It's been a challenging weekend so far. I know the past doesn't predict the future, but we had a bad first practice and I said 'Guys the street circuits, it's always very hard once you've lost that momentum to get it back – you are always one step behind.' I feel like I can drive well around here. We weren't happy with the car after second practice so we changed a lot overnight and third practice was better. For qualifying, I was actually fairly happy with the car until I knew where I qualified and in my opinion, something wasn't right. I felt like the job I did was on the limit without overdriving it and I was basically last. We've been good recently – we were P2 at Barber and P6 in Sonoma, so it doesn't really add up to me and I think we have a bit of work to do there. Tomorrow this race is known for changing up a bit and now that they have added five laps there is a lot of fuel saving happening. If people save fuel we can just do the opposite of what the others are doing. As you saw last week, Bourdais started last in St Pete and won because he took a different strategy."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): "Yeah, bit of a bummer there but congrats to Helio. It was a hell of a lap I think he put together there. The NTT Data car actually had a lot more grip than I expected and kind of caught me off guard I think. Once I felt it I tried to go beyond it a couple of times and just made too many mistakes I think on the qualifying run. I struggled a little bit this weekend on the red tires just with straight-out speed. Unfortunately, I think we are going to be running a lot of reds tomorrow but that's the way it will work out. But I'm definitely confident in the fact we have a great race car here, all four Ganassi cars have been strong this weekend and hopefully we will see how it plays out."

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): "It's been a frustrating weekend for the NTT Data team. We had some electrical issues before the first practice session this morning that only allowed us five laps on track before qualifying. The guys worked really hard to get the car on track to maximize the little time we had left. Starting 11th is going to be a challenge with it being so difficult to pass but we will work on getting the car in the right race set up in tomorrow's warm up session and be sure we have the best strategy to get back up front."

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "It's a little disappointing, to be honest. We just couldn't put together a solid lap. I'm not exactly sure what happened behind me on the thing with Simon (Pagenaud) and Helio (Castroneves). I was gearing up for a fast lap and trying to gauge the traffic in front. We came up a little short overall, and we'll just hit the track tomorrow ready to go. The Verizon Chevy team gave me a great car and it will be awesome again tomorrow."

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "We made a lot of progress from Practice 3 to qualifying, we were a little bit more competitive. We knew our qualifying group was really tough, and we barely missed it. I lost all the time in the last corner (Turn 9). I made a big mistake, we should have been in the top 12, that was our goal. But I'm positive we'll make some changes. The car is not what I need it to be. We have to make some overnight changes. We'll see how it goes tomorrow."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 PennGrade Motor Oil Honda): "To be able to fight through the things we did as a single car team makes me proud because we tried some big changes overnight and they worked out. We took ourselves from a place where we were average in terms of being competitive to a place where we were third fast overall in Round 2 of qualifying and ended up qualifying sixth based on our time in Round 3. We had an issue in Round 3 which was disappointing but based on where we were on Friday, I'm happy to have made the Firestone Fast Six. I'm pleased with the car, pleased with where we stand against the competition. Now we just have to work on a couple of little things to improve for the race and try to get the PennGrade Honda in Victory Lane."

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Trench Shoring Honda): "Qualifying was OK in Round 1 and then Round 2, we ran out of juice I guess. I thought it was a decent lap but we came out two-tenths short of making the Firestone Fast Six and not only that but when you finish 12th in Round 2 you think to yourself, we should have kept the tires! It's obviously not the way we want to go so I'm disappointed for the group and to end up there. It's so close, two-tenths and you're in or you're out. I made a small mistake and that was enough. It's not a fun race from mid-pack and a lot of bad things can come your way. If it's an incident-free race like last year it's tough to make stuff happen. We'll keep digging and see what happens."

ED JONES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): "It's been great work by the team. I struggled a bit this weekend but we worked hard overnight to improve the car from yesterday. The changes proved that we went in the right direction. It was a very good qualifying for me, so close to the top 12. It's a bit frustrating, but thanks to the team for giving me the car to do that. I'm really confident for the race. I have great memories here from racing in Indy Lights two years ago, so I hope I can add to those memories tomorrow."

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "Throughout the weekend, I've just been trying to get better. Both with improving the car and also improving some things that I have been working on. It is a tough track. We made some progress in the practice this morning, but when we put the red tires on in qualifying it just wasn't there for us. We will go back and look at everything and focus on getting quicker for tomorrow."

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): "The car is actually pretty good. This morning, we ended up running a little longer on tires than other guys and were still able to maintain our lap times. I feel like the car will be solid in the race tomorrow and hopefully we can take advantage of the right opportunities along the way. We're not that far off from being able to pick able to pick off a few guys for a single-digit finish. That is definitely in play for us, so that's what we're going to shoot for."

TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): "It was a disappointing qualifying today after having a good session in practice. We didn't have a good lap – it's just that kind of day, it's a shame. But, I think we have a good car, so hopefully we can recover tomorrow."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda): "We lucked out on transferring into Round 2 – I had a huge moment there and were lucky to not come back on the hook. So, we were lucky to transfer and missed the Firestone Fast Six by half-a-tenth (of a second). To qualify the UFD car 10th and miss Round 3 by half a tenth, it shows you what Indy car racing is all about – it's super tight. Every hundreth (of a second) counts and it's going to make for a great race tomorrow."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "Certainly much better than last year (at Long Beach). This team has worked so hard over the offseason and we've all worked together – that's the important thing – a lot of testing and we've definitely found a good direction now. It's great to have this yellow and red DHL Honda back up where it belongs, back up in the sharp end of the grid, especially here at Long Beach. It's been such a special track for me both personally and professionally. To be starting up front like this is definitely a nice surprise, it's a nice break over what we experienced on the street courses. So far, we're checking off the boxes. It's a long way to go and we have a lot of work to do, tomorrow is going to be a tough race. But, the weather is beautiful here in Southern California, the fans are great, the crowd is unbelievable for a Saturday and we've got everybody here from DHL. Big thanks to the Andretti guys for such hard work and hopefully we can make them all proud tomorrow."

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Tresiba Honda): "Obviously after yesterday I am really pleased to qualify seventh today. I think we made the car a lot better overnight which showed this morning. We were able to make some more improvements for qualifying, so pretty happy with that being within a hundredth of making the Firestone Fast Six is a new version of frustrating. I'm obviously pleased I think tomorrow we should have a good car, put together clean stops a clean race through the first couple laps, and settle into a rhythm. I know my guys will get the job done really well in pit lane we just have to put the laps together and get the fuel mileage we need and see where we end up at the end of the day."

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda): "It was a really good day. It was the NAPA Racing team's first (Firestone) Fast Six appearance, which is a huge turn around for Andretti Autosport and Honda from last year. I don't think we maximized all our practice potential, so it was nice to put it out there today in qualifying. The NAPA Auto Parts car has been strong all weekend and now we can look forward to tomorrow."

Lineup

Pos No Name FTime Diff Gap Engine
1 3 Helio Castroneves 1:06.225 0.0000 0.0000 Chevy
2 9 Scott Dixon 1:06.412 0.1869 0.1869 Honda
3 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 1:06.440 0.2147 0.0278 Honda
4 5 James Hinchcliffe 1:06.529 0.3037 0.0890 Honda
5 98 Alexander Rossi 1:06.559 0.3341 0.0304 Honda
6 15 Graham Rahal 1:06.756 0.5308 0.1967 Honda
7 83 Charlie Kimball 1:06.540 0.3150 -0.2158 Honda
8 2 Josef Newgarden 1:06.607 0.3820 0.0670 Chevy
9 12 Will Power 1:06.615 0.3891 0.0071 Chevy
10 27 Marco Andretti 1:06.622 0.3968 0.0077 Honda
11 10 Tony Kanaan 1:06.626 0.4008 0.0040 Honda
12 18 Sebastien Bourdais 1:06.785 0.5599 0.1591 Honda
13 19 Ed Jones 1:07.583 1.3578 0.7979 Honda
14 14 Carlos Munoz 1:07.378 1.1529 -0.2049 Chevy
15 21 JR Hildebrand 1:07.693 1.4677 0.3148 Chevy
16 7 Mikhail Aleshin 1:07.389 1.1639 -0.3038 Honda
17 4 Conor Daly 1:07.798 1.5723 0.4084 Chevy
18 26 Takuma Sato 1:07.470 1.2445 -0.3278 Honda
19 20 Spencer Pigot 1:07.844 1.6188 0.3743 Chevy
20 8 Max Chilton 1:07.533 1.3079 -0.3109 Honda
21 1 Simon Pagenaud 1:08.044 1.8185 0.5106 Chevy

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