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Castroneves Reigns In Phoenix Qualifying

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, April 29 2017

Helio Castroneves added another pole award to his collection Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

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Helio Castroneves extended his reign as the king of speed at Phoenix Raceway Friday, shattering the lap record he set a year ago during qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.

Castroneves averaged 194.905 mph/37.7538-seconds for his two laps around the 1.022-mile oval in Avondale, Ariz., including a record-setting circuit of 18.8701-seconds/194.975 mph. The 41-year-old Brazilian earned his second pole position in four races this season and the 49th of his 20-year Indy car career _tying the Team Penske ace with Bobby Unser for third on the all-time list.

“People don’t realize that qualifying is extremely difficult,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 REV Group Chevrolet. “I took it to the limit; I had one eye closed and one eye open. Experience is a big part of this and today was really, really good.

“The conditions were really difficult today in practice; the gusting winds were horrendous. We worked mostly on the race setup (in practice). My engineer (Jonathan Diuguid) did a phenomenal job and obviously, everybody at Team Penske. The REV Group car was really fast. Qualifying is one thing, the race is another but I’m really confident going into tomorrow.”

Castroneves will lead the 21-car field to the green flag for Saturday’s 250-lap race (9 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).

Castroneves led a Chevrolet sweep of the first five qualifying positions. Teammate Will Power, winner of the two Verizon P1 Awards that Castroneves hasn’t collected this season, qualified second with a two-lap average speed of 194.017 mph/37.9266-seconds in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

“It’s kind of tough going early (in the qualifying order), so I was very apprehensive to go wide open on that first lap,” Power said. “Helio actually ran a little less downforce than me _ he trimmed more _ so he was really fast. We’ll see what we can do (in the race). Castroneves can be second and I’ll be first. That’d be nice.”

JR Hildebrand broke the Team Penske stranglehold by qualifying third in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet at 193.912 mph. The career-best effort came a week after Hildebrand sat out the road-race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., while a broken bone in his hand sustained three weeks ago at Long Beach, Calif., healed enough for him to be medically cleared to drive.

“The car’s been good from the (February) open test to rolling out here in practice and I had a good, strong run there,” said Hildebrand, whose best previous qualifying effort was fourth at Iowa Speedway in his rookie season of 2011. “It’s so difficult to pick your downforce level in these kinds of varied conditions. We saw Helio and those guys roll out with a little less (downforce) than where we were at. But looking towards the race, I think our cars are really good in race trim.”

Team Penske drivers Josef Newgarden, the winner last Sunday at Barber, and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud locked down the fourth and fifth positions, respectively.

Tony Kanaan of Chip Ganassi Racing, a two-time winner at Phoenix Raceway (2003, ’04), was the top Honda qualifier, placing sixth overall in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda. Scott Dixon, race-winner a year ago when the series returned to Arizona following an 11-year absence, qualified eighth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.

Sebastien Bourdais, the championship point-leader following the first three races, qualified 10th in the Dale Coyne Racing No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda.

A delayed telecast of qualifying will air at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday on NBCSN, leading into the live race telecast.

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Friday’s qualifying results for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.022-mile Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine and speed:    
    
1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 194.905 mph   
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 194.017    
3. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 193.912     
4. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 193.676    
5. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 193.414    
6. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 192.539    
7. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 192.327    
8. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 192.050    
9. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 191.387    
10. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 191.349    
11. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 191.194    
12. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 190.799    
13. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 190.768    
14. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 190.565     
15. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 190.405    
16. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 190.029    
17. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 189.786    
18. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 189.779    
19. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 189.301    
20. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 188.536    
21. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 186.360    

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, April 29 2017
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