Castroneves Claims Another Pole At Long Beach
Helio Castroneves broke his own track record in winning a third straight pole on Saturday for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
In the Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying, Castroneves pushed his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street course in 1 minute, 6.2254 seconds (106.980 mph).
That earned the 41-year-old Brazilian his third straight Long Beach pole and the 48th of his 20-year career, leaving Castroneves one behind fellow legend Bobby Unser for third on the all-time list.
“This competition in the Verizon IndyCar Series, it’s so incredible,” Castroneves said. “It’s ridiculous, plus every time you go into a session, it’s something different. The track changes, the tires change, traffic. It is absolutely very difficult. The crucial time when it comes, you see everybody hundredths of a second separated from each other.
“My car felt pretty good. Especially with the reds (Firestone alternate tires), my car came alive from this morning, so the AAA Chevy is working really hard.”
Castroneves is one of seven previous Long Beach winners entered this year, but his victory at the premier North American street-course race came 16 years ago. He aims to change that in Sunday’s 85-lap race (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network), the 34th straight year for Indy cars in the Southern California city.
“Today is extra special because Long Beach is a great place,” the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said. “I remember winning here from the pole in 2001 and, the last two years, we were right there. We’re not going to let this escape again.”
Scott Dixon, the four-time series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing, qualified second with a lap of 1:06.4123 (106.679 mph). The driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda was the first to break the track standard in Segment 2 of qualifying with a lap of 1:06.2285 as 11 of the 12 competing in the round ran laps better than Castroneves’ 2015 record of 1:06.6294.
“Qualifying second is a great spot to start,” said Dixon, who won at Long Beach in 2015 but has never captured the pole in 11 tries. “I think our cars are typically good on the long run. I think we have a great shot at competing for the race win tomorrow.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2010 Long Beach winner, qualified third in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport (1:06.4401, 106.634 mph), ahead of James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda (1:06.5291, 106.492 mph), Alexander Rossi in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian (1:06.5595, 106.443 mph) and Graham Rahal in the No. 15 PennGrade Motor Oil Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1:06.7562, 106.129 mph).
Simon Pagenaud, the reigning Long Beach race winner and Verizon IndyCar Series champion, had what would have been a track record erased in Segment 1 when he was penalized for qualifying interference on teammate Castroneves. Pagenaud will start last in the 21-car field in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet.
“It was just one of those unfortunate things,” Pagenaud said. “I understand the penalty because I interfered with Castroneves’ lap. I backed up a little to set up a second lap on the (Firestone alternate tires) and Helio was right there. I was boxed in; there was nothing I could do.”