By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
In a Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying session that demanded perfection, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden met that demand with a near-perfect lap for pole position ahead of Sunday’s IndyCar season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Newgarden’s lap of 1:15.5205 was a new track record as the Tennessee native edged out Penske teammates Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves in the Firestone Fast Six. Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon line up fifth and sixth.
Qualifying began with the first round which was split up as normal into two groups. The first group went out with Newgarden leading Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sato, Dixon and Tony Kanaan into the second round while Conor Daly, Charlie Kimball, Spencer Pigot, Jack Harvey and Zachary Claman DeMelo would respectively fill out grid positions 13th, 15th, 17th, 19th and 21st.
Group two in the first round had the rest of the Penske brigade as Power and Pagenaud led Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Castroneves and Sebastien Bourdais out of the first round of qualifying. That left Max Chilton, James Hinchcliffe, Ed Jones, JR Hildebrand and Carlos Munoz to fill out grid positions 14th, 16th, 18th, 20th and 22nd respectively.
Round two of qualifying between the fastest 12 cars had Hunter-Reay, Rossi, Rahal, Bourdais, Andretti and Kanaan starting seventh through 12th respectively as Pagenaud went quickest in the second round over Newgarden, Castroneves, Power, Sato and Dixon.
Trouble was ahead for Newgarden as he no longer had a fresh set of the faster Firestone red sidewall option tires to use for the third round of qualifying but was able to complete a perfect lap to score a critical bonus point for pole position, extending his championship lead to four points ahead of Sunday’s race. Not bad considering it was Newgarden’s first pole of the season.
“We had great race cars here,” said Newgarden.
“We knew our car was fast. I think these guys, they’re all capable of doing the same thing on used tires. Who is not to say that used tires would have been a little bit better for one lap, maybe that was the case today.”
Power was second fastest, only just over three hundredths of a second slower than Newgarden and could only think about what could have been.
“You start going back through the lap in your head,” Power said. “I could have just hit the throttle a little earlier there, yeah. Would have helped me braking actually, push back.
“Yeah, it’s tight. It’s just like that sometimes. I mean, gave it everything I got. That’s the situation.”