LEEDS, Ala. – Simon Pagenaud has been on quite a roll this season, especially during the last six days when the Team Penske driver won last Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
He backed it up on Saturday by winning the pole position for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Pagenaud put the No. 22 Team Penske on the Chevrolet with a fast time of 1:06.7562 for a speed of 124.089 mph around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course. Team Penske teammate Will Power was second quick at 1:06.9421 (123.689 mph) in another Chevrolet.
“I’m just having a lot of fun, but of course I’m working really hard,” Pagenaud said. “I’m still working as hard as I worked before, but suddenly everything is rolling really well and really easily. The whole team is fantastic, and we don’t have to really think about it too much to make it work.
“The biggest thing for me is to make myself comfortable with the car, whatever the setup is, and once I am comfortable, I can really push it and do some things like today. So that’s where we’re at right now, and it feels really nice. We’re just going to – I don’t want to jinx it, so we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing and not get too excited.”
Pagenaud also took pride in out qualifying his Team Penske teammate Power, who has become a master at winning poles on the street and road courses during his career.
“It’s just nice to be the fastest today,” Pagenaud said. “In qualifying it’s important to be in the lead for sure, especially here, because it’s so hard to pass and it’s such an aerodynamic racetrack. I definitely want to be ahead. It’s definitely a game that I enjoy. Qualifying is fun, and Will is definitely the best in the business, so when you can beat him, it feels nice for sure.”
It was Pagenaud’s third Verizon IndyCar Series pole and his first this season. In addition to his first Team Penske victory last week at Long Beach – the fifth of his career – the driver from France who now lives on Lake Norman in North Carolina also has a new puppy named “Norman.”
“We got a little puppy – we got him right after Long Beach,” Pagenaud said. “It’s a little Jack Russell. It makes me think of Montoya, the way he eats.”
Pagenaud was referring to his pudgy teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, but the two-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver had little to celebrate Saturday as he was the slowest of the 21 drivers in the field for Sunday’s race.
Montoya’s Chevrolet made it around the course in 1:07.5627 for a speed of 122.553 mph and will start last after he failed to advance out of his first session.
“It was OK but normally the Firestone Reds (speed tires) come in really good and they go away really fast,” Montoya explained. “For me they came in OK but they just stayed there. I could run the same lap times over and over again. It is not normal. I had too much understeer in the car and we’ve been fighting it all weekend. I felt like this morning we were where we needed to be for qualifying, but we put the Reds on there and I was thinking, ‘What the hell happened?'”
Team Penske’s four drivers include a sweep of the front row with Pagenaud and Power; Helio Castroneves just barely missing the Firestone “Fast Six” and will line up seventh on the grid at 1:07.0129 (123.558 mph) and Montoya last.
“I need to have some good finishes here to have a shot of being in the championship at the end,” Power said. “Penske has definitely got our stuff together, and Simon did a mega lap there, an awesome lap. To do that on these Reds is very good.
“It’s amazing with the amount of downforce we have now how many of the corners are such – it’s about bravery. Like you’ve really got to be committed. I think it would be a different story on the racing tires with the grade. There might be tire conservation, and hopefully it’s a good race. It has been the last few years.”
Defending Barber IndyCar winner Josef Newgarden starts third after a time of 1:07.0283 (123.530 mph) and is hoping to make it two in a row at this picturesque road course.
“It really good last year winning the race,” Newgarden said. “I think it’s a special place now for me just – I’ve always loved this track, but I love it so much more now because it’s the first place – I got my first win here, so it’s very special. But I think everyone just assumes you’re going to go back and do the same thing, and that’s been kind of hard to manage over the weekend. Not hard, but it’s just funny because everyone is like, ‘hey, you’re going to do this again, right? You’re going to win the race because you won last year,’ and I’m like, ‘well, that’s not really how it works.’ It changes every year, and things are different. You’ve always got to try and be catching up. All the teams are evolving all the time, and same as the drivers.
“We’ve been doing our best to try and keep up with the changes this year and everything that’s been going on, and you know, in qualifying I did a pretty good job. I was really proud of everyone. We hit on it right where we needed to, so I feel a lot more confident now going into tomorrow that we can try and repeat a win.”