By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Helio Castroneves rose to the occasion and claimed his second straight pole for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at the Phoenix Raceway.
Driving the No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet, the Brazillian pulled off a blistering fast 194.905 mph two-lap average to claim his 49th career Indy car pole. By doing so, Castroneves eclipsed his previous single lap track record of 19.0997 with an even quicker lap of 18.8701 seconds (194.975 mph).
Castroneves was a clear .1728 seconds ahead of his Team Penske teammate Will Power. With 40-50 mph winds gusting the 1.022-mile oval, Castroneves noted that he was right on the edge.
“I took it to the limit,” said Castroneves. “I had one eye closed and one eye open. Experience is a big part of this and today was really, really good.”
Castroneves added that with today’s windy conditions, it was tricky to dial in the car but ultimately it paid off in the end.
“The weather was tough this early afternoon because of the wind,” he said. “We didn’t really know what to expect. We took a little bit of a calculated risk and now it’s paid off.”
With tonight’s run, Castroneves ties Bobby Unser for third on the all-time pole stats. It also gives Team Penske a clean sweep of qualifying so far this season as Castroneves won the pole at Long Beach while Power claimed the pole at St. Petersburg and Barber.
Power was second in the qualifying order and initially broke the one and two-lap records with an average of 194.017 mph. He noted almost immediately that qualifying second was to his disadvantage because of the dusty conditions but was happy with Team Penske’s overall team effort.
“It’s kind of tough going early, so I was very apprehensive to go wide open on that first lap,” said Power. “It’s a Penske 1-2-4-5, so that’s pretty good.
After sitting out Barber due to a broken hand sustained at Long Beach, JR Hildebrand broke up the Team Penske brigade with the third quickest qualifying time with a two-lap average of 193.912s. The run marks the Sausalito, California native’s best career start driving the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Josef Newgarden, who won last week at Barber, matched his career best start with Team Penske with a fourth place qualifying effort while 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five.
Two-time Phoenix winner Tony Kanaan carried the flag for Honda and Chip Ganassi Racing and could only muster a sixth place run. He was followed by the fellow Hondas of Mikhail Aleshin, CGR teammate Scott Dixon, Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti and series’ points leader Sebastien Bourdais.
Full results from qualifying: Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix GP