Hélio Castroneves has earned his second Verizon P1 Award in succession after putting his Chevrolet-powered #3 AAA Insurance Team Penske machine on pole at a rain-threatened Barber Motorsport Park.

Castroneves recorded the fastest lap of 1:07.192 seconds around the 2.3-mile (3.7-kilometre), 16-turn road course to claim the $10,000 qualifying prize for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. This was the 43rd pole of the Brazilian’s career, which puts the multi-time Indianapolis 500 winner one step closer to the legendary Bobby Unser, who is placed this on the all-time rankings with 49 poles.

The story of qualifying was that the entire field was hoping to get a fast lap before the heavens opened. The qualifying group vying for a berth in the Firestone Fast 6 saw a few surprise eliminations, as opening St. Petersburg winner Juan Pablo Montoya and defending back-to-back Barber race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay could not progress to the next round. They will start 15th and 18th respectively.

Also not making it out of the first round was A.J. Foyt Racing duo of Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth. They, along with the rest of the Honda powered drivers – bar James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal – found their aero kits no match for those kitted out by Chevrolet.

Thus the second round of qualifying for the twelve fastest runners began with ten Chevrolets among the dozen machines competing to grab a place into the Firestone Fast Six, but it was six Chevrolets that progressed. Sébastien Bourdais, Rahal, Luca Filippi, Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam filled out the seventh-to-twelfth grid positions on the grid for Sunday’s race.

The ‘Fast Six’ started with the heavens threatening to burst at any second, and it was called off with just over a minute-and-a-half to run before the thunderstorm came and washed off the track, leaving Castroneves on pole, joined on the front row by teammate and reigning Verizon Series Champion Will Power.

Frenchman Simon Pagenaud made it a Penske 1-2-3 on the grid, lining up ahead of Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon in fourth; CFH Racing’s Josef Newgarden and the second Chip Ganassi entry of Tony Kanaan completed the top six in fifth and sixth respectively.

“It’s all about team effort,” said Castroneves, who entered the two-day race weekend just three points behind teammate Montoya in the Drivers’ Championship.

“For us, every practice is qualifying. That helped us to push ourselves into this position. It’s not about because we have success here, I think its part of it, but it’s in the equipment. At the end of the day it’s a team effort, everyone is working hard.”

The story for tomorrow’s 90-lap race looks set to be another Chevrolet domination over the Honda entries and this could be the weekend that the former overturns its 116-point deficit to return to the top of the Manufacturers’ Championship – Chevrolet lost 220 points with minor engine infringement penalties after the opening round but have since carved into Honda’s margin.

With the storms and rain cleared, the race is set for mostly sunny conditions. With the Barber Motorsports Park circuit being one of the trickiest on the calendar thanks to a series of elevation changes, blind corners and its tough reputation for overtaking, it could be a processional race with Penske running the show. That is, of course, unless some cautions, collisions and strategies throw a spanner in the works.

With Power ad Pagenaud yet to taste the victory champagne this year, a fourth different winner in as many races is still a real possibility.

The Grand Prix of Alabama starts at 14:37 local time (GMT -05:00).


2015 IndyCar Series Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama – Qualifying Results
Grid ‘Fast Six’ Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap
1. Hélio Castroneves br Team Penske 1:07.193
2. Will Power au Team Penske 1:07.383 + 0.190
3. Simon Pagenaud fr Team Penske 1:07.638 + 0.446
4. Scott Dixon nz Chip Ganassi Racing 1:07.694 + 0.501
5. Josef Newgarden us CFH Racing 1:07.892 + 0.700
6. Tony Kanaan br Chip Ganassi Racing 1:07.942 + 0.750
Grid ‘Top 12’ Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap*
7. Sébastien Bourdais fr KVSH Racing 1:07.246 + 0.441
8. Graham Rahal us Rahal Letterman Lanigan 1:07.390 + 0.585
9. Luca Filippi it CFH Racing 1:07.630 + 0.825
10. James Hinchcliffe ca Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 1:07.663 + 0.858
11. Charlie Kimball us Chip Ganassi Racing 1:07.841 + 1.036
12. Sage Karam us Chip Ganassi Racing 1:07.893 + 1.088
Grid ‘Group 1’ Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap**
13. Marco Andretti us Andretti Autosport 1:07.630 + 0.522
15. Juan Pablo Montoya co Team Penske 1:07.724 + 0.616
17. Gabby Chaves co Bryan Herta Autosport 1:07.819 + 0.712
19. Jack Hawksworth uk A.J. Foyt Racong 1:08.008 + 0.901
21. Rodolfo González ve Dale Coyne Racing 1:08.526 + 1.419
Grid ‘Group 2’ Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap***
14. James Jakes uk Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 1:07.967 + 1.027
16. Stefano Coletti mc KV Racing Technology 1:07.995 + 1.054
18. Ryan Hunter-Reay us Andretti Autosport 1:07.998 + 1.058
20. Takuma Sato jp A.J. Foyt Racing 1:08.254 + 1.314
22. Carlos Muñoz co Andretti Autosport 1:08.353 + 1.413
23. Franceso Dracone it Dale Coyne Racing 1:10.113 + 3.173

 

  • * Denotes gap to fastest ‘Top 12’ qualifying session time of 1:06.805 posted by Will Power. Fastest six qualifiers progress to the ‘Fast Six’ shootout for pole position.
  • ** Denotes gap to fastest ‘Group 1’ qualifying session time of 1:07.102 posted by Simon Pagenaud. Fastest six qualifiers progress to ‘Top 12’ stage, with the remaining drivers occupying the odd-numbered grid positions 13, 15, 17, etc.
  • *** Denotes gap to fastest ‘Group 2’ qualifying session time of 1:06.941 posted by Scott Dixon. Fastest six qualifiers progress to ‘Top 12’ stage, with the remaining drivers occupying the even-numbered grid positions 14, 16, 18, etc.

Image via Motorsport.com

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Michael Terminello

Journalist at MotorsportM8
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