DETROIT – After starting the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season with three wins and five top-two finishes in five races, a 19th-place result at the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was unfamiliar territory for Simon Pagenaud.
But on Saturday, the Frenchman will be back to the front, leading the field to the green flag for the first race of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park’s 2.35-mile temporary street course.
On a day that saw teammate Will Power’s 2015 track record at Belle Isle (1 minute, 16.0941 seconds) beaten by more than a second, Pagenaud outdueled the rest of the 22-car field in qualifying to claim his third Verizon P1 Award of the season and third in a row on road and street courses.
CLICK HERE: Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race 1 qualifying results
In today’s Firestone Fast Six – the last of three rounds of knockout qualifying – Pagenaud’s best lap of 1:14.9166 (112.926 mph) beat the rest as the driver of the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet for Team Penske claimed his fifth career pole.
“The track is awesome,” said Pagenaud. “It’s a real street fight out there and the (No.) 22 car was amazing. We’re back with Hewlett Packard (as primary sponsor for the race weekend), they have a lot of (people) here this weekend, so I’m glad we could do well for them.”
With the additional point for winning the pole, Pagenaud unofficially extended his points lead over reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon to 58 – although points are not officially awarded until after a race.
“The team’s just doing incredible, I’m glad we could keep the momentum going,” said Pagenaud, whose first career Indy car win came at Belle Isle in 2013. “Obviously last weekend (at the Indy 500) wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but we’re back.”
Close behind Pagenaud in qualifying was teammate and three-time Belle Isle winner Helio Castroneves, whose No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet missed the pole by just more than one-hundredth of a second (1:14.9285, 112.908 mph). Castroneves set the new track record of 1:14.6899 (113.268 mph) in Segment 2 of qualifying that determined the Firestone Fast Six.
“The boys did an unbelievable job, Simon just nipped me over there,” said the Brazilian whose first career win also came at Belle Isle, in 2000. “But when I looked at the time and it was just one-hundredth (of a second shy of pole), oh, man, I (wish I) would have squeezed a little something out there. But great job for the entire organization.
“I can’t believe it! So close to get the No. 1 spot, but that’s OK.”
Team Penske made it a 1-2-3 qualifying sweep with Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) third with a lap of 1:15.5659 (111.955 mph).
“Our Verizon Chevy has been pretty good,” Montoya said. “We actually struggled a lot this morning. You look at how fast our teammates were – I was like 13th or 15th this morning – so we pretty much changed everything on the car and it worked well.”
Saturday will mark the third straight Belle Isle race where Team Penske will start 1-2-3. It also will be the eighth time in the last nine Verizon IndyCar Series races that a Team Penske car will start from pole; the only outlier being James Hinchcliffe’s run to pole at the Indianapolis 500 last month.
Hinchcliffe will join Montoya on the outside of Row 2 Saturday, his No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Honda posting a lap of 1:15.7708 (111.653 mph) in the Firestone Fast Six. Carlos Muñoz (No. 26 Magneti Marelli Andretti Autosport Honda) and Scott Dixon (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet) fill out the third row for the first of 70-lap races on the weekend.
Power, the lone Team Penske driver to not make the Firestone Fast Six, set the fastest lap in the morning practice session, but grazed the wall in Segment 1 of qualifying. His car was hastily repaired between segments but he couldn’t advance from Segment 2 and will start ninth.
"We were so quick this morning in practice than in qualifying,” said the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “The Verizon Chevy touched the wall early on in qualifying, so we had to change the suspension. It was pretty intense out there. Wasn't quite the result we had hoped for. We'll just have to go into the race tomorrow and see what we can do."
Less than a week removed from his stunning win at the Indianapolis 500, rookie Alexander Rossi will start 17th in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for Andretti Autosport, his first race in any discipline at Belle Isle. Also making his first start at the circuit will be Spencer Pigot, new driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing on the remaining road and street courses. The 2015 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion will start 21st.
The Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans schedule Saturday includes a final practice from 10:05-10:35 a.m. ET (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com), with race coverage beginning at 3:30 p.m. on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Qualifying for the second race – with drivers split into two groups, each receiving 12 minutes of track time – runs from 10:45-11:15 a.m. Sunday (also on RaceControl.IndyCar.com), with coverage of the 70-lap finale beginning at 3:30 p.m. Sunday (ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).