LEXINGTON, Ohio – As Verizon IndyCar Series teams left Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course today, the results seemed almost unsurprising. For the sixth time in 2016, Simon Pagenaud won the Verizon P1 Award, and for the sixth time in 2016, a new track record was set.
After making his eighth Firestone Fast Six appearance in as many tries this season (the only driver to do so), Pagenaud snatched the pole position for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio from teammate Will Power on his final lap with a time of 1 minute, 3.8700 seconds (127.271 mph).
"I didn't know about that (new track record),” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet who now leads Power in the championship by 48 points with five races to go. “That is good. The PPG car has been really good this weekend.”
CLICK HERE: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio qualifying results
Pagenaud revealed he has been dealing with a lower back problem since Friday, which hampered him throughout the day but didn’t stop him from securing the eighth pole of his Indy car career.
“(Qualifying) was more on me really because I have been struggling a little bit with my really bad lower back,” said the Frenchman. “We put those Firestone red tires on and, again, the car was beautiful.”
Contributing to several surprises on the day was the anticipation of rain, which was expected to influence qualifying but never arrived in anything more than a few sprinkles in Segment 2.
“That was an interesting qualifying,” said Pagenaud. “The expectation of rain, no rain. There were some drops in Q2 that made it more difficult.”
“It was interesting,” said 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, “especially when it started sprinkling there in the back because the patches through (Turns) 4, 5, 6 started to get pretty slick.”
Hunter-Reay qualified fourth for Andretti Autosport in the No. 28 DHL Honda, his best start since the second race of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit in June.
“It was tough to predict every time you came through what it would be, how much you can get away with,” he said. “Those sessions like that as a driver put you on edge, but they end up being the most fun because you're kind of searching around looking for that grip.”
Pagenaud and Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) will make up the front row for Sunday’s 90-lap race on the 2.258-mile permanent road course, as the two continue their battle for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship and Astor Cup. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) and Hunter-Reay make up the second row, with Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet) and Graham Rahal (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) in Row 3.
Perhaps of bigger shock than the lack of rain was the struggle of Chip Ganassi Racing after putting all four cars in the top eight in this morning’s practice. Only Kimball made the Firestone Fast Six, while five-time Mid-Ohio winner Scott Dixon (No. 9 Target Chevrolet) qualified 11th. Max Chilton (No. 8 Gallagher Chevrolet) and Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet) will make up Row 7 after failing to make it out of Segment 1 of knockout qualifying.
“I was shocked,” said Kimball, who won at Mid-Ohio in 2013. “We were sitting there (on team radio), and it's like, ‘OK, who's in the Fast Six?’ I was like, ‘Dixon,’ they're like, ‘No, no, Dix didn't make it.’”
Dixon attributed his starting position to a miscommunication about track conditions as light rain came through and passed over part of the circuit.
“We waited too much,” said the four-time series champion. “The team thought we would be safe (to make the Firestone Fast Six). Coming into the pits, I thought it was getting faster on track. The rain was getting lighter. The times picked up drastically in the end there, which hung us out. We just had a miscue in communication there. It’s kind of how our season has gone so far.”
Which didn’t make it any less stunning for his teammate.
“Around here, it's abnormal,” said Kimball, “which makes me really nervous for tomorrow because when Scott drives angry, he drives really fast.”
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course plays host to its 32nd Indy car race with Sunday’s Honda Indy 200. A morning warmup practice begins at 10:15 a.m. ET and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Coverage of the 90-lap race begins at 2 p.m. ET on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with a re-air on NBCSN at 5:30 p.m. ET.
And don’t forget to catch five Verizon IndyCar Series stars – Power, Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe and Conor Daly – take on a team of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models in the newest episode of the hit game show “Celebrity Family Feud” that airs at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.