LONG BEACH, Calif. – Team Penske experienced both sides of the grid in Saturday’s Verizon IndyCar Series pole qualifications for Sunday’s 43rd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Helio Castroneves won his third-straight Long Beach pole and his fourth overall. That extends his career total to 48 – fourth on the all-time list. He won the pole in the “Firestone Fast Six” with a track record lap of 1:06.2254 around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street course for a speed of 106.980 miles per hour in a Chevrolet.
Castroneves was also involved in a controversial ruling by IndyCar Race Control that involved Team Penske teammates Will Power and defending winner Simon Pagenaud in the turn 11 hairpin area in Segment One. As Pagenaud entered turn 11, he closed rapidly on Power’s car forcing the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion to hit the brakes. The car behind him belonged to Castroneves, who also slowed down.
IndyCar Race Control reviewed the incident after segment one concluded and ruled that Pagenaud was guilty of qualifying interference. So instead of advancing into segment two, Pagenaud lost his two fastest laps and will start last in the 21-car field when Sunday’s race begins.
The 43rd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach can be seen on NBC Sports Network with the broadcast beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.
Pagenaud had run a lap of 1:06.5026, which would have been a track record breaking Castroneves’ 2015 mark of 1:06.6294.
“I know exactly what happened,” Pagenaud said. “Power was slow and on the first Red lap and backed everyone up, and I had to abort my lap. The problem with Helio was really caused by me, and the rule is the rule, but it’s too bad because it all started with Will.
“It was just one of those unfortunate things. I understand the penalty because I interfered with (Helio) Castroneves’ lap. I backed up a little to set up a second lap on the (alternate tires) and Helio was right there. I was boxed in; there was nothing I could do. The Menard’s Chevy was fantastic. We’ll start from the back. St. Petersburg was won from the back and we’ll try to do that, too.”
Castroneves was in a wild celebratory mood after claiming his most recent pole and putting himself in a position to break a winless streak that dates all the way back to 2014. When asked to explain what happened with Pagenaud, he wanted to make sure that he did not complain to IndyCar officials what had taken place.
“Well, unfortunately I think it was a snowball,” Castroneves explained. “Will wasn’t going. We were not understanding because we took enough gap from each other. I think maybe he was having issues with the brand-new set of (Firestone) Reds (faster optional tires).
“In my position, because I was the third car, so I was so far back, I was catching those guys. All of a sudden when he came to the hairpin, obviously, Simon was also trying — he was also penalized from that situation. It was too suddenly.”
Castroneves said there was actual contact between the two cars in Turn 11.
“I actually touched Simon’s wheel ring on the hairpin,” he said. “But we were able to come back and still made it to the top six. Were surprised actually when they penalized him. Obviously, we didn’t say anything. It’s a shame because he was also a very good competitor. It’s another car for Team Penske able to win.
“We never know. Sebastien won starting from the back. I hope that’s not the case this weekend, tomorrow. But for Team Penske, anything can happen.”