AVONDALE, Arizona – Sebastien Bourdais continued his sizzling start to the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, setting the fastest speed in Verizon P1 Award qualifying today to earn the pole position for the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix.
Following a victory in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 11, Bourdais averaged 188.539 mph for his two qualifying laps around ISM Raceway’s 1.022-mile oval in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan. Bourdais earned the 34th pole position of his 13-year Indy car career, breaking a tie for seventh place on the all-time list with Dario Franchitti.
“We just have got a great group of guys working really hard, trying to make it happen,” Bourdais said. “When you do, it’s really sweet.
“I really knew what I had (and) that’s the best possible way to go qualifying. I knew I could hang it out because I knew what I was running.”
DESERT DIAMOND WEST VALLEY CASINO PHOENIX GRAND PRIX: Qualifying results
A benefit of the being the championship points leader after winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Bourdais was last in the Phoenix qualifying order and ran in cooler conditions under the setting sun. It helped the 39-year-old from Le Mans, France, earn a pole position on an oval for the first time since Milwaukee in June 2006, when Bourdais was in the midst of winning four consecutive Champ Car titles. It was also the second pole in the 35-year history of Dale Coyne Racing, following Mike Conway at Detroit’s Belle Isle in 2013.
“That SealMaster No. 18 Honda was really solid,” Bourdais said. “As soon as that track temp cooled off, it just gives you all the grip you need to make it happen. It’s high tension, high pressure, really listening to the car and making sure you don’t overdo it.”
Simon Pagenaud, last year’s race winner at ISM Raceway, qualified second with a two-lap average of 188.148 mph in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet. Teammate and 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power was third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, at 186.852 mph.
“I think we did a really good job considering the conditions,” said Pagenaud, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “The car, she was really nice, it was perfect. The No. 22 Menards team did a really good job. I think we’ve got a really good race car, so I’m excited.”
Alexander Rossi qualified fourth for Andretti Autosport in the No. 27 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda (186.824 mph). Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcliffe and rookie Robert Wickens locked up the third row of the starting grid: Hinchcliffe qualifying fifth at 185.741 mph in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda and Wickens sixth in the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda (185.362 mph).
“A huge credit to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports guys because we did not have a great test here back in February,” Hinchcliffe said. “Obviously things have changed a lot conditions-wise, but we went back (after the test), had a big think about it, a big look inside ourselves. I just can’t thank those guys and gal enough for getting us good cars and getting us both up there. It’s awesome.”
Saturday’s 250-lap race will be the 64th for Indy cars at the historic mile oval outside Phoenix dating to when the track opened in 1964. The Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix airs live at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.