Pagenaud strengthens championship bid with Sonoma pole position

Updated: 

SONOMA, Calif. – Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud has led the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings since early April. On the cusp of his first series title, the Frenchman delivered a championship performance in Saturday’s Verizon P1 Award qualifying, earning the top spot in knockout qualifying for Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway.

CLICK HERE: GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma qualifying results

Pagenaud (No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet) won the pole position and important championship point with a lap of 1 minute, 16.2565 seconds (112.594 mph), leading a Team Penske sweep of the top four spots. Pagenaud was followed by Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet, 1:16.4134), Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet, 1:16.5400) and championship contender Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet, 1:16.5400). The last time the Penske quartet swept the first four spots in qualifying was in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., in March.

“The biggest thing is how good the car has been, through the whole qualifying session,” said an exuberant Pagenaud after winning the pole at Sonoma for the first time. “So proud of the HP Chevrolet team. What a dream season, seven poles! It’s unbelievable … I knew we could do it.

“This has not been my favorite type of track in the past, but it doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.”

For Power, who with a win Sunday will claim the championship if Pagenaud finishes outside of the top five, it was a frustrating qualifying effort that left him starting in fourth place, even after giving his top effort.

“That's all I could do in qualifying,” said the 2014 series champion. “That was everything I had and the car had. … It's a long race. I think it's going to be a race of degradation. It's going to be really interesting the way the tires go.”

Pagenaud’s effort earned his seventh pole of 2016, the 245th in the Indy car history of Team Penske and put him 44 points clear of teammate Power heading into Sunday’s 85-lap championship finale. The race pays double points, meaning Pagenaud can clinch the championship by finishing fifth or better.

Pagenaud also set the Sonoma Raceway track record in Segment 1, with a fast lap of 1:16.2530, eclipsing the mark set by Power (1:16.2597) in qualifying last year at the 2.385-mile permanent road course.

“Certainly I did everything I could by challenging every high-speed corner that I could,” said Pagenaud. “I was on the edge, but it was a really good lap. Super proud of these guys.”

Outside of Team Penske, the top qualifier was Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal, fifth in the No. 15 Steak 'n Shake Honda. Scott Dixon, who has won the past two Sonoma races, will start seventh in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet -- in the final race of the CGR-Target partnership after 27 years.

With just 85 laps separating him from his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship, Pagenaud will lead the 22-car field to the green flag for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. A 30-minute warmup practice begins at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Race coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.


Rank

Car

Driver Name

C/A/E/T

Time

Speed

Session

1

22

Pagenaud, Simon

D/C/C/F

01:16.2565

112.594

Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six

2

3

Castroneves, Helio

D/C/C/F

01:16.4134

112.362

Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six

3

2

Montoya, Juan Pablo

D/C/C/F

01:16.5400

112.177

Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six

4

12

Power, Will

D/C/C/F

01:16.6659

111.992

Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six

5

15

Rahal, Graham

D/H/H/F

01:16.7149

111.921

Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six

6

28

Hunter-Reay, Ryan

D/H/H/F

01:16.9132

111.632

Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six

7

9

Dixon, Scott

D/C/C/F

01:16.5700

112.133

Elimination Round 2 / Top 12

8

98

Rossi, Alexander (R)

D/H/H/F

01:16.5840

112.112

Elimination Round 2 / Top 12

9

11

Bourdais, Sebastien

D/C/C/F

01:16.6115

112.072

Elimination Round 2 / Top 12

10

21

Newgarden, Josef

D/C/C/F

01:16.8142

111.776

Elimination Round 2 / Top 12

11

7

Aleshin, Mikhail

D/H/H/F

01:16.8909

111.665

Elimination Round 2 / Top 12

12

83

Kimball, Charlie

D/C/C/F

01:16.9627

111.561

Elimination Round 2 / Top 12

13

10

Kanaan, Tony

D/C/C/F

01:16.9481

111.582

Elimination Round 1 / Group 1

14

27

Andretti, Marco

D/H/H/F

01:16.9288

111.610

Elimination Round 1 / Group 2

15

14

Sato, Takuma

D/H/H/F

01:16.9661

111.556

Elimination Round 1 / Group 1

16

26

Munoz, Carlos

D/H/H/F

01:17.0314

111.461

Elimination Round 1 / Group 2

17

41

Hawksworth, Jack

D/H/H/F

01:17.0823

111.387

Elimination Round 1 / Group 1

18

8

Chilton, Max (R)

D/C/C/F

01:17.1310

111.317

Elimination Round 1 / Group 2

19

20

Pigot, Spencer (R)

D/C/C/F

01:17.3052

111.066

Elimination Round 1 / Group 1

20

5

Hinchcliffe, James

D/H/H/F

01:17.1926

111.228

Elimination Round 1 / Group 2

21

18

Daly, Conor (R)

D/H/H/F

01:17.6771

110.535

Elimination Round 1 / Group 1

22

19

Enerson, RC (R)

(R) Rookie

D/H/H/F

01:17.3264

111.036

Elimination Round 1 / Group 2

(C)hassis: D=Dallara | (A)erokit: C=Chevy, H=Honda | (E)ngine: C=Chevy, H=Honda | (T)ire: F=Firestone

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