LONG POND, Pa. – While an international theme has captivated sports fans this month with the Summer Olympic Games, Verizon IndyCar Series drivers added their own worldwide flavor today in qualifying for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, led by a first-time pole winner.
Mikhail Aleshin, driving the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Honda, became the first Russian driver to win a pole position in Indy car history, taking top honors in Verizon P1 Award qualifying today with a two-lap average speed of 220.445 mph on the 2.5-mile triangular oval.
CLICK HERE: ABC Supply 500 qualifying results
Affectionately known as the “Mad Russian” for his daring driving style, Aleshin led a top six in qualifying that features drivers from six different nations. American Josef Newgarden from Ed Carpenter Racing (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet, 220.195 mph) will join Aleshin on the front row. Japan’s Takuma Sato of AJ Foyt Racing (No. 14 ABC Supply Honda, 220.067) will start on the inside of Row 2 in his best qualifying performance since sitting on pole at the second race of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit in 2014.
“It’s my first pole in INDYCAR and I am so happy to bring the No. 7 SMP Racing up there,” said Aleshin. “The team did an amazing job. We had a couple of moments in Turn 1, but I decided to keep it flat and see what would happen. (Hitting) the wall didn’t happen, but pole position happened. Amazing.
“It’s obviously very difficult to explain what I feel now,” the 29-year-old Moscow native said. “But it’s a lot of emotions definitely. I’m very happy for the team first of all because we’ve been through many things.”
While Sunday’s race is bound to be unpredictable, Aleshin claims today’s result as an affirmation that his No. 7 team belongs among the contenders.
“I think the main help starting from P1 is basically confidence for everyone,” he said, “a confidence for the team. Because we know that we’re fast, we know we can build a car to be in P1 here.”
Newgarden, who will start on the front row for the third time in 2016, was upbeat with his performance but frustrated he couldn’t cover the deficit to Aleshin, which turned out to be less than one-tenth of a second over the 5-mile run.
“It’s tough being second,” admitted Newgarden, winner at Iowa Speedway last month and third-place finisher in May’s Indianapolis 500. “I think we might have had enough if we stuck with our original (qualifying setup). I was pushing the team really hard to change that at the last minute. Maybe if we didn’t do that, we would have had enough today. I feel like it’s kind of my fault.”
The Tennessean should still be considered a favorite for Sunday’s race. He has finishes of fifth, eighth and second in three races at the “Tricky Triangle.”
“Still good with second,” Newgarden said. “You can't be mad about that. We got a good spot. But you like those small victories. Pole is a small victory. Love to be able to do that for your crew. It's tough when you're that close and you miss it by so little.”
Brazilian Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 219.781) and Colombia’s Carlos Munoz (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, 219.647 mph) rounded out the top five, followed by Aleshin’s teammate, Canadian James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 219.463).
While Aleshin celebrated his first pole, several usual contenders will not have as good of a view of the field when the green flag waves for Sunday’s 200-lap event, slated to be the 13th completed race of the 2016 season. Championship leader Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, 217.721) will start 14th and defending series champion Scott Dixon (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, 215.337) 19th. Defending race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda) will start from the back of the 22-car field after crashing in practice this morning and not making a qualification attempt.
Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 2 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet) and Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Tresiba Chevy) also crashed in morning practice, but their crews were able to repair their cars in time for qualifying. Montoya (217.284 mph) will start 15th and Kimball (216.917) 16th.
A delayed qualifying broadcast airs late tonight (midnight ET Sunday) on NBCSN.
The Verizon IndyCar Series has a final practice session from 5-5:30 p.m. ET today that will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Coverage of Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 can be found on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INYDCAR Radio Network beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
Rossi, Alexander (R)
Montoya, Juan Pablo
Chilton, Max (R)
Daly, Conor (R)
(C)hassis: D=Dallara | (A)erokit: C=Chevy, H=Honda | (E)ngine: C=Chevy, H=Honda | (T)ire: F=Firestone