He may be one of the elder statesmen of the Verizon IndyCar Series, but Helio Castroneves isn’t slowing down anytime soon. The Team Penske driver broke his own track record Saturday in winning a third straight Verizon P1 Award to start on pole position in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
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, 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.”
Scott Dixon, the four-time series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing, qualified second with a lap of 1:06.4123 (106.679 mph). Dixon 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 (1:06.4401, 106.634 mph), ahead of James Hinchcliffe (1:06.5291, 106.492 mph), Alexander Rossi (1:06.5595, 106.443 mph) and Graham Rahal (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.
“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.”
Verizon IndyCar Series
Long Beach Street Circuit – Long Beach, CA
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – April 8, 2017
Saturday’s Qualifying Results
1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:06.2254 (106.980)
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:06.4123 (106.679)
3. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:06.4401 (106.634)
4. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:06.5291 (106.492)
5. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:06.5595 (106.443)
6. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:06.7562 (106.129)
7. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:06.5404 (106.474)
8. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:06.6074 (106.367)
9. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:06.6145 (106.355)
10. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:06.6222 (106.343)
11. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:06.6262 (106.337)
12. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:06.7853 (106.083)
13. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:07.5832 (104.831)
14. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:07.3783 (105.150)
15. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:07.6931 (104.661)
16. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 01:07.3893 (105.132)
17. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:07.7977 (104.499)
18. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:07.4699 (105.007)
19. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:07.8442 (104.427)
20. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:07.5333 (104.908)
21. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:08.0439 (104.121)