By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter
SONOMA, Calif. – Simon Pagenaud’s championship battle will get a little bit easier as he captured his seventh pole of the season for Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. and led a Team Penske sweep of the front two rows.
The Frenchman initially reset the track record in the first qualifying group and set another fast time in Q2 to prepare himself for the Firestone Fast Six. He then bided his time during the six minute pole-determining session while his rivals took to the track. As the minutes clicked down Pagenaud finally roared out of the pitlane with just under three minutes remaining in the session. As everyone had already made their final runs, it looked as if Helio Castroneves looked like he had the pole locked up. Pagenaud turned up the wick as the checkered flag flew and unseated his teammate from the pole with a lap of 1:16.2565.
Pagenaud noted that utilizing the softer Firestone Red Tires were key to claiming the pole position.
“The first lap when I went out on the Firestone Reds, I radioed back and said ‘Wow, this is going to be good!” he said. “We were able to replicate the laptime every time. Unbelievable that we could replicate that time in the Fast Six with the used tires. I certainly did everything that I could be challenging every high speed corner that I could. It was on the edge but it was a really good lap.”
“Super proud of the guys, these guys – the 22 team, seven poles this season, four wins, no matter what happens tomorrow it’s been an incredible season.”
With the pole, Pagenaud will claim a bonus point in the championship chase and will only have to finish fifth or better to claim the championship over Will Power.
Castroneves will start from second place, his sixth front row start of the season. Juan Pablo Montoya and Power rounded out the top four. That gives Team Penske their second sweep of the top four this season, the first coming at the season opener at St. Petersburg. Starting on the third row were the Hondas of Graham Rahal in fifth, his best start ever at Sonoma followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay, the only Andretti Autosport car in the Fast Six.
The rest of the Andretti Autosport squad was mixed throughout the field after showing good pace throughout the three practice sessions. Alexander Rossi was the only other AA car that made advanced into Q2 and ended up in eighth place. A possible engine misfire prevented Marco Andretti from backing up his speed in this morning’s session and will start 12th while Carlos Munoz found himself in 16th.
Three-time and defending winner at Sonoma Scott Dixon suffered from brake issues in the first qualifying session and his Target Chip Ganassi crew managed to do a complete brake change in a matter of 10 minutes. The Kiwi managed start the session on time and barely missed the Fast Six by .003s.
Josef Newgarden rebounded to qualify in 10th place after crashing in this morning’s practice session.
Click here for the starting grid for the Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma.