Simon Pagenaud has been setting the standard in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season and he helped take Team Penske to another level today.
Pagenaud, a three-time winner in 2016 and the championship leader after nine of 16 completed races, won the Verizon P1 Award for the Iowa Corn 300, earning the 500th pole position in all racing disciplines in the illustrious history of Team Penske in the process. The driver of the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet circled the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway oval twice at 185.855 mph (34.6334 seconds) to capture his fifth pole position this season, seventh of his Indy car career and coveted No. 500 for boss Roger Penske.
“Five hundred, how cool is that?” the 32-year-old Frenchman asked while wearing a cap with “500” embroidered across the front. “It is just qualifying – we have a lot of work to do this weekend – but it certainly puts a great stamp on the work the No. 22 team has been doing as well as the whole Penske organization.”
All four Team Penske drivers qualified in succession following the blind draw for the order. Pagenaud benefited from being the last of the Penske quartet to make his attempt, receiving information relayed from his teammates about track and car handling conditions.
“It is such a gamble for the engineers in this situation,” he said. “You only get two laps. Conditions from this morning to the afternoon changed. It is fun when you get the car right like this on an oval.
“Chevy has been incredible giving us so much power and such a good aero kit. It’s been comfortable and a lot more to my driving style.”
Pagenaud led a Chevrolet sweep of the top eight qualifying positions. Josef Newgarden, in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet, was second fastest with a two-lap average of 185.639 mph (34.6738 seconds). Newgarden is four weeks removed from sustaining a fractured right clavicle and bone in his right hand in a crash during the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway that was suspended by rain after 71 laps.
“It’s always tough when you qualify second, you think, ‘Arrrgh!’” said Newgarden, who has finished second in the past two Iowa races. “It’s just really hard to qualify second. You almost wish you qualified fifth or something. That sounds really stupid, but it’s always tough.
“We needed that last little bit, but it’s nothing to complain about. I think we have fast cars. We’ve had fast cars here for the last couple years with Ed Carpenter Racing and I feel really good about our race car.”
Helio Castroneves qualified third in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (185.433 mph, 34.7122 seconds) and will be joined in Row 2 by rookie Max Chilton, who qualified a career-best fourth. Chilton’s two-lap average speed was 185.419 mph (34.7148 seconds) in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy.
“Great job by the Ganassi guys,” said Chilton, who won the 2015 Indy Lights race at Iowa. “It was nice to be the fastest (of the four Ganassi drivers), no easy feat. Really happy with that and tomorrow is what counts. I hear no one’s won from pole here, so I’m obviously in the right sort of area to have a good result.”
Defending race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has won three of the past four Iowa races, was uninjured in a morning practice crash in which his Andretti Autosport No. 28 DHL Honda sustained minor rear-end damage. He qualified 20th in the 22-car field. The Andretti team, which has won six straight Iowa Speedway races and seven of the nine to date, struggled as a whole, with Carlos Munoz qualifying 15th, Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi 17th and Marco Andretti 19th.