Aleshin wins his first IndyCar pole at Pocono

Aleshin first pole ever for a Russian in F1 or IndyCar
Aleshin speed to his first pole

It was a day of firsts at Pocono International Raceway Saturday where the IndyCar Series was qualifying for the ABC Supply 500. It was the first IndyCar pole for Mikhail Aleshin and it was the first time a Russian driver will sit on the pole for an IndyCar race.

Aleshin trimmed the car out and had a couple of moments in Turn 1 but it was the fastest speed and pole for the #7 Schmidt Peterson SMP Honda.

Aleshin said he maintained 100% throttle through Turn 1 and the car stuck. It was then he knew he was going to have a good lap.

Aleshin's No. 7 SMP Racing car was fastest on the time charts during the first Verizon IndyCar Series practice session on Saturday morning. The Moscow native's two-lap qualifying average of 220.445 showcased his on-the-edge racing style and was two-tenths of a second quicker than the second-place qualifier. Aleshin proudly flew his native flag as he celebrated the pole position with his SMP Racing crew.

"It's my first pole in INDYCAR and I am so happy to bring up the car, the No. 7 SMP Racing, up there," said Aleshin. "The team did an amazing job. We had a couple of moments in turn one, but I decided to keep it flat and see what would happen. (Hitting) the wall didn't happen, but pole position happened. Amazing.

"In the practice this morning, we were P1. What I know for sure is that in the practice, we were very good in the race mode. I hope it's going to stay like this tomorrow and that's what's going to be really important. I mean, I'm happy to be fast by myself on the track but it's not going to be like this in the race. We need to prepare for running in the pack tomorrow. The race is what's important. That's where you get the trophy."

It is the first time in the history of F1 or IndyCar that a Russian driver has won the pole. IndyCar is broadcast on two stations in Russia, and if Aleshin, who should have won at Mid-Ohio, starts to have some success, IndyCar will begin to gain popularity in Russia.

Moscow Raceway would love to host IndyCar if the price was right. IndyCar cannot expect to race overseas with any success unless a driver from that particular country has a fighting chance to win.

Josef Newgarden will start 2nd for Ed Carpenter Racing ahead of Takuma Sato's AJ Foyt Honda.

Newgarden felt they went the wrong way on setup for qualifying and left a little on the table. However, the sun went behind the clouds just as Newgarden started qualifying and that worked to his advantage.

"We rolled out with one thing and I was pushing my guys to do something different. It’s a team decision, whether it’s their decision or mine, but I feel like I was pushing a little hard for something that wasn’t the right thing. But we were close, we just needed that little bit! I think where we rolled out with would have been enough. It’s my fault that we changed it. I’m disappointed about that; you always want the pole! We have a great chemistry and group with our people, but sometimes I mess up! Congrats to Mikael, great job by him! We didn’t have enough today but tomorrow is what counts."

Helio Castroneves and Carlos Munoz rounded out the top-5.

As predicted by AR1.com before this weekend, the Hondas would be competitive this here at Pocono because the Chevys are forced to tow the same parachute as the Hondas have to tow every race weekend. Five of the top-7 speeds were turned in by Honda cars.

Is IndyCar popular in Russia? "Well, I can tell you, first of all, IndyCar is covered by two Russian channels, two Russian sports channels," said Aleshin.

"One of them is called Match! Arena, the other called Viasat Sport. I mean, people are watching it. The more they watch, the more popularity there is. IndyCar, obviously, is a very, very exciting series. It's very competitive. Every race there is something new. There is a lot of fighting on the track. Basically it's really hard to know who's going to win the next race.

"I think that's the most important thing in the sport and the most important thing in the show. When you watch some of the championships, motorsport championships, you already know who going to win, or at least which team going to win. That little bit not interesting to watch, isn't it? IndyCar is not like this. I think that's why the people like it so much.

Hunter-Reay's crew works on his damaged racecar
Hunter-Reay's crew works on his damaged racecar

One driver that did not get a chance to qualify was Ryan Hunter-Reay. After crashing hard in Turn 1 this morning, the crew scrambled to get the backup car ready, but the backup car was setup for a road course and in addition to swapping the engine, there was too many other parts that had to be changed to be ready in time for qualifying.

The car has to be in line for inspection 30-min. prior to qualifying and they did not make it.

As a result, Hunter-Reay will start last on Sunday.

Tomorrow's race starts at 3:00 PM weather permitting and will be telecast live on NBCSN. Most likely the race will run on Monday because the forecast for Sunday is bad.

Driver Quotes

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet): "I think we did the best we could in qualifying. I had a moment there in Turn 1 on the first lap so it was good to make it through OK, especially after this morning. It's a shame because I think we had a really good car here earlier and we were just trying to push too hard on cold tires in the practice and hit the wall. What a great job by Team Penske and the No. 2 team to get the backup car ready for qualifying so I have to say thanks to them. We'll be working in the practice tonight to get the car dialed in so we're ready to race tomorrow."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): "I'm very happy with the result. The Hitachi Chevy was good this morning and that continued into the afternoon. We did get some luck with the cloud cover that cooled the track down. We haven't had a lot of good luck this year; maybe it's starting to change. I wasn't really expecting fourth, but I'll certainly take it. Now, we'll get some more work in later at practice."

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "It was a solid effort from the whole Arrow Electronics team. It's awesome that Mikhail is on pole and we have another one for the team this year. We came here feeling fairly confident with the speedway package after the month of May, then we went one-two in practice and now we have two cars in the top six to start the race. We'll see what we can do with a 500-mile race. Obviously a lot can happen in that time but starting at the sharp end of the grid is definitely good. Also, huge credit goes to the Arrow Electronics crew for all the effort they put into these speedway cars and hopefully we can bring home a good result for them."

MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Honda): "It's obviously very difficult to explain what I feel now. But it's a lot of emotions definitely. Maybe you cannot see it with my Russian face, but it's true. I'm very happy for the team first of all because we've been through many things. We've been through some very difficult situations at the end of 2014. They supported me then. Then I came back last year for single race, the last race in Sonoma, and finished in the top 10. This year, I mean, we had some good things, some difficult things – races, I mean. I think the last part of the season has been really good, and we had really good progress. Just the whole team all together, me, everyone else. It's a team sport here, for sure. Every tiny thing is very important in the end result. So I'm definitely very, very happy to be here."

MAX CHILTON (No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): "I can see why they call this place the Tricky Triangle because this track is totally different from when we tested here a few weeks ago. It's definitely a tough place to figure out. I was adjusting the car and trying to get the most out of it, but I didn't have the confidence in the car for qualifying."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): "It wasn't great out there in the Target car today for some reason. The car was extremely loose and we had quite a few issues this morning. We did a little bit of race running in the practice session but we lost a lot of track time with the crashes this morning that others had. I just don't think we did a good job rolling off the truck this weekend and we paid for it in qualifying for sure. We have a lot of work to do before the race."

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet): "I think we took a conservative approach today for qualifying with the NTT Data Chevrolet. We knew that we were going to have a challenging session based on the feedback from my teammates that went out before me. We didn't want to take any chances. It's a long race – 500 miles – and I think we'll have a good car for the race."

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 11 Team Hydroxycut-KVSH Racing Chevrolet): "I knew qualifying would be tough, but it turned out to be quite a bit harder than I expected. The Hydroxycut machine started with a big understeer, so I backed down on the tools. Then as soon as I got to Turn 1 the car was loose. The rest of the run I just kept going between understeer and oversteer. I could never get the balance right in any of the corners. Basically no grip just sliding around. The track temp went up about 20 degrees from this morning and we don't seem to deal with that very well. It is double difficult when you don't go testing, but we will try and put on a better showing in the race tomorrow."

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "The car has been loose and we'll have to make some adjustments for tomorrow's race. On the other side, the Verizon Chevy is really fast, but just a matter of getting the handling right. Just not connecting when we go into the corners, so practice tonight and making some adjustments should help."

TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): "Very, very happy about our qualifying run. We had a very good baseline car. We tested here a couple weeks ago which helped massively and we gained a good understanding for the strong superspeedway package that Honda worked so hard on and it looks like we have a pretty strong car. It's a lot of compliments to our engineering staff particularly my race engineer Raul (Prados) who worked on so many details and the car was almost perfect and I really enjoyed running those two laps. It's a fantastic achievement. Hopefully we'll have a strong car for the ABC Supply 500 and have a good day tomorrow."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Bobby Rahal Automotive Group Honda): "We trimmed out a lot more than (fellow Honda driver) Munoz and some others. The balance has been good but we've been lacking speed so we trimmed out a ton compared to them. I think we could have gotten away with it but the understeer was sky high. A little bit of lifting (off the throttle) and your time drops. I was pleased to see 218.3 (mph lap speed) but I think we could have done a high 219 or 220 had we been flat so we've got to work on that but ultimately what matters most is having a good race car and we're going to work on that in the final practice."

PIPPA MANN (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): "So far I think it's been a challenging weekend. We knew it was going to be tough coming here with Conor (Daly) not having been here before and myself being out of the car since May and not getting to test. I think we're all a little disappointed with how challenging it's been. That said, we've got another practice session this evening, so we'll keep working to make both of our cars better and then it's a 500-mile race tomorrow. It's a really long race and if we can get the car in the window and drive a smart race there's no reason that we can't turn this weekend around and have a good day."

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "It's a tricky day. The conditions are a little different, especially with the wind, from when we practiced. That's when it's hard to be early in the line. It is tricky, there's a lot of different downforce levels. I wish I could have got that first lap back. After I got the tools in the car adjusted to where I wanted them, that second lap was pretty good. I wish I could have had a couple of those."

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 21 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet): "We rolled out with one thing and I was pushing my guys to do something different. It's a team decision, whether it's their decision or mine, but I feel like I was pushing a little hard for something that wasn't the right thing. But we were close, we just needed that little bit. I think where we rolled out with would have been enough. It's my fault that we changed it. I'm disappointed about that; you always want the pole. We have a great chemistry and group with our people, but sometimes I mess up. Congrats to Mikhail, great job by him. We didn't have enough today but tomorrow is what counts."

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): "I was fighting an understeer situation in the Menards Chevrolet which made it difficult. Going out early didn't really help, either. We'll continue to work in practice later to get the car in a little better place for tomorrow. It's a long race and a lot of things can happen. I have a ton of confidence in my team. They're the best."

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): "I wasn't sure if our run was going to be enough to get the pole, but it was nice to be the second (car) out. You have to wait for the whole field to go, but you get to give information to your teammates. It would be good to be in the front, for sure, but here it is a long race so qualifying (position) is not as important. I think we have a good car all around and I love this place."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Snapple Honda): "I think in race trim the car is strong, but my car hasn't had the same speed as, say, my teammates really on speedway spec this year – even from Indy. But the race is a different story, it's 500 miles and a lot goes down there. We'll hopefully be on the better end of circumstances and pull something out tomorrow for the UFD / Snapple team."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "I'm a bit banged up, sore, what you'd expect from a hit like that. It's really unfortunate because this DHL Honda was a rocket here in the test just a week and a half ago. We came with a few different things in the car, but really we found that the real issue was just a cross-weight issue. The car was just mechanically a little bit too aggressive. We could have made qualifying, but the battle is that if you don't make your space in line in tech, then you're not allowed to qualify. This is the location of our last win, and hopefully we can get this 28 DHL car back into victory lane. Last year we came from the back as well, hopefully we can make it happen with Justin (Wilson) on our minds the whole way. It's unfortunate but tomorrow's the race and it's 500 miles. And the backup car we went to is the car we won with here last year."

JACK HAWKSWORTH (No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): "Pretty good qualifying considering we didn't get much running here at the test. I think we did a good job this morning to get the car where we needed it to be. We did a qualifying sim and the car felt pretty good. We stayed the same for qualifying, not anticipating what the track was going to do but knowing if we kept the starting platform we should be OK and we did. It worked out OK since we qualified in the top half. Now we just have to do the work tonight to get the car dialed in for traffic and drive a strong race tomorrow for ABC Supply."

CHARLIE KIKBALL (No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet): "The No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet felt really rock solid, so I think I definitely could've gone a little bit harder. I cracked the throttle in Turn 1 in two laps, but I think that's fairly understandable after what happened this morning. The Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing guys and really everyone on the team worked so hard to get me ready for qualifying – I really appreciate everyone's efforts. The 83 car felt good in qualifying though. We'll put some more downforce in it and work out a few more things tonight in practice to make sure we're ready go for tomorrow."

CONOR DALY (No. 88 BC Forever Honda): "We picked up speed from where we were in practice so that's good. It's a matter of just learning everything. There's so much to learn and so much to understand about these cars in qualifying and if you're going to really try and trim it out. We were very conservative on downforce so we sort of expected to be where we are. We're here to get through 500 miles of the race and to have a good strong result come the end of the weekend. For me it's just about experience. Experience is paramount here. To get through those 500 miles and learn from everyone around me will be the main goal. The track is really cool. It's very challenging though because (turn) three is different to (turn) one, and one is daunting in the way that it makes the car feel in the middle of the corner. There are a lot of G forces and a lot of downforce. Whereas two and three are much flatter, so really challenging to learn at such a high rate of speed.

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda): "I think at the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway we were strong, and here we seem to be strong. The Honda package has really been developed over the winter coming into this year so the results of that are strong and we're very proud. It seems to be very suited for the speedways. Glad to see Honda hold onto P1. Hopefully we can have a good day tomorrow."

Results

Rank Car Driver Name Make Lap 1 Lap 2 Total Time Avg Speed
1 7 Mikhail Aleshin HONDA 40.7901 40.8629 01:21.6530 220.445
2 21 Josef Newgarden CHEVY 40.8518 40.8938 01:21.7456 220.195
3 14 Takuma Sato HONDA 40.9058 40.8873 01:21.7931 220.067
4 3 Helio Castroneves CHEVY 40.9709 40.9288 01:21.8997 219.781
5 26 Carlos Munoz HONDA 40.9870 40.9628 01:21.9498 219.647
6 5 James Hinchcliffe HONDA 41.0076 41.0109 01:22.0185 219.463
7 98 Alex Rossi(R) HONDA 41.0480 41.0216 01:22.0696 219.326
8 12 Will Power CHEVY 41.0872 41.2487 01:22.3359 218.617
9 10 Tony Kanaan CHEVY 41.1550 41.1849 01:22.3399 218.606
10 20 Ed Carpenter CHEVY 41.3041 41.1045 01:22.4086 218.424
11 15 Graham Rahal HONDA 41.2689 41.2228 01:22.4917 218.204
12 41 Jack Hawksworth HONDA 41.2919 41.2576 01:22.5495 218.051
13 27 Marco Andretti HONDA 41.2426 41.3217 01:22.5643 218.012
14 22 Simon Pagenaud CHEVY 41.2078 41.4667 01:22.6745 217.721
15 2 Juan Montoya CHEVY 41.2793 41.5614 01:22.8407 217.284
16 83 Charlie Kimball CHEVY 41.4946 41.4865 01:22.9811 216.917
17 8 Max Chilton(R) CHEVY 41.5076 41.5606 01:23.0682 216.689
18 11 Sebastien Bourdais CHEVY 41.6428 41.5892 01:23.2320 216.263
19 9 Scott Dixon CHEVY 41.8258 41.7642 01:23.5900 215.337
20 88 Conor Daly(R) HONDA 41.9102 41.9056 01:23.8158 214.757
21 19 Pippa Mann HONDA 42.5995 42.6006 01:25.2001 211.267
22 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay HONDA No Time

Note: Ryan Hunter-Reay's car was not in the inspection line at least 30 min from the start of qualifying and was not allowed to take a time. He will start last on Sunday

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