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IndyCar: Penske claims front row lock-out, but lacks Power

Penske drivers locked out the front row again for Sunday's race, but Will Power was caught out by a red flag and will start down in 18th.
A record-setting qualifying session for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach ended up with the all-Penske front row that most people had been predicting - but perhaps not with the two drivers from that team that people had been expecting, as Will Power was a notable absentee from the sharp end of the grid.

Instead it was Power's team mate Helio Castroneves who stole the lime light on Saturday, and who succeeded in shattering the nine-year-old qualifying record for the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street course previously held by Sebastien Bourdais in a Champ Car World Series car.

CLICK: Full qualifying session times and results from Long Beach

"The team worked really hard because we changed everything in the car last night, so congratulations to them," said Castroneves as he celebrated winning his 42nd pole position in the Verizon IndyCar Series, putting him fourth on the all-time pole winners list.

"It was not pretty last night, but it proved that we were able to keep pushing," added Castroneves. "When you get the pole position with the team mates I have, it's actually pretty cool. The car is awesome so we have to keep pushing."

Castroneves snapped up pole with a new record time of 1:06.6294s (106.331mph), which was over two tenths faster than Bourdais' long-standing benchmark and just 0.0293s faster than his fellow Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya who rebounded from frustrating struggles in the preceding practice sessions to clinch a spot alongside Castroneves on the front row for Sunday's race.

"Yesterday in the first practice we were really good," said Montoya. "We went one direction for the second practice and went slower, tried something this morning and went even slower, so I was like, 'Oh, let's put it back.'

"We spent two days trying to figure it out and then just put it back the way we started and things were good - welcome to motor racing!" he laughed, adding that he thought pole position had been within his reach. "I really thought I had it there, but I made a mistake in the last corner, but it is what it is."

Despite Castroneves and Montoya's success in the Firestone Fast Six pole shoot-out round, Penske wasn't able to pull off a 1-2-3-4 sweep like they had at St Petersburg. Instead, row two was split between Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport and featured two previous series champions, Scott Dixon in third place and Ryan Hunter-Reay claiming fourth on the grid.

"The Target car actually rolled off really well here - better than we normally do," said Dixon. "We came into this weekend with a different mindset and I'm really proud of everyone on the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team for getting it going.

"We seemed to do really good on the black [prime] tyres," he added. "We were hoping for bigger improvements and more of a time difference with the reds [soft options] from the blacks, but we just didn't find it. We were still quick enough, but hopefully we can find that time tomorrow during the race. Long Beach is always a tough one and strategy is definitely going to be top-of-mind."

"That was pressure-packed," Hunter-Reay summed up. "We definitely put the goal out today to make the Firestone Fast Six - that, for us, was a pole today. We got in there and we got well within, so we're pretty happy about that.

"Tomorrow, for warm-up, we're going to have to see how the #28 DHL is with race trim, but this is another step forward with this new Honda package, and I think it's obvious you can see it," he continued. " We're making steps on this Honda aero package, and I think we just keep chipping away at it like this and we'll be able to close that gap.

"Congrats to Helio on the pole - I think he won the pole here back in '86 or something like that," Hunter-Reay laughed. "No, no - like 13 years ago, but that's a testament to how talented he is."

Penske's Simon Pagenaud also made it into the final round of qualifying but had to settle for fifth place on the grid, which puts him alongside CFH Racing's Josef Newgarden on the third row. Having earlier set the pace in Saturday morning practice, the Frenchman was somewhat disappointed not to come away with a better starting position but feeling positive about what he could achieve on Sunday.

"We've been fast in every practice," he insisted. "Team Penske did a great job. Overall, it's been a good weekend so far. Hope it stays that way tomorrow."

The one conspicuous Penske absence from the pole shoot-out round was reigning champion Will Power, who was eliminated in the first round of qualifying after his group's track time was curtailed by a red flag for a single-car accident in turn 5 involving KV Racing Technology's rookie driver Stefano Coletti, who had also pancaked the wall earlier in the day in morning practice.

"I'm just kicking myself for not finishing the lap that I had a bobble on," sighed Power, who ended up relegated to 18th place on the grid after not getting the chance to run a properly representative lap. "I turned the engine down, coasted for a bit and took off again.

"It's going to be tough," he admitted as he contemplated the task ahead of him on Sunday. "You know how these IndyCar races go, anything can happen. We have to be positive and hope a yellow falls our way. That's kind of our only chance to make something of it."

Coletti had been on course to progress to the second round of qualifying before the accident. He was in third place in the timings when the red flags came out, but as per IndyCar rules the former GP2 driver had his two best laps of the session deleted for causing the stoppage and as a result he will start from the back of the grid.

There were also several penalties handed out in the other first round group. Ganassi driver Tony Kanaan and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal were both reprimanded for interfering with other drivers' qualifying laps, while Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team mates James Hinchcliffe and James Jakes, Ganassi's Charlie Kimball and Dale Coyne Racing's Conor Daly all had laps invalidated for failing to slow sufficiently under local waved yellows.

Kanaan was the first person in Saturday's qualifying session to break Bourdais' existing track record with a time of 1:06.7442, which had put him at the top of the group and easily through to round 2. However he wasn't able to repeat that sort of pace next time out and he ended up missing out on progressing to the pole shoot-out round by just 0.0783s.

"It's frustrating that we didn't make it into the Firestone Fast Six, especially after the lap times we were running in that first round," he agreed. "We made a change between Q1 and Q2 and that unfortunately cost us a few tenth.

"We were less than one-tenth from sixth, so it was definitely tight," he noted. "That's what I love about IndyCar though, the competition is so strong. I think tomorrow's race will definitely be exciting."

It had certainly been a landmark day for Daly, who agreed to step into the #18 car just half an hour before the start of morning practice after scheduled driver Rocky Moran Jr. was diagnosed with a broken thumb following an on-track collision with Andretti's Carlos Munoz in Friday afternoon's session. Unsurprisingly given his complete lack of time in the car, the young American was bottom of his first round group in his first day on an IndyCar street/road course but he will nonetheless start from 21st place in Sunday's race just ahead of DCR"s second driver Francesco Dracone.

"I am getting the feel of the car every lap," said Daly. "For sure it is a steep learning curve. It was great to get at least one session in this morning and get a feel for it. I haven't ever driven on the red Firestone tyres before and they were nice.

"The last lap I was half a second or four tenths up on my previous best which would have been nice," he pointed out of the lap that was later deleted. "But, again, that is racing and it's the way these things work. I'm very happy to be here but I'm very hard on myself because I want to be competing for wins. I just have to keep moving forward and do my best tomorrow."

Daly will get another chance to get a proper feel for his new ride on Sunday morning when the teams have an additional half hour warm-up session starting at 10am local time (6pm BT) in order to fine-tune their race set-ups. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - round three of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series - is scheduled to get the green flag just after 1.30pm (9.30pm BST) in the afternoon.

See full qualifying session times and results from Long Beach.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Helio Castroneves celebrates his Verizon P1 Award for winning the pole for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves celebrates his Verizon P1 Award for winning the pole for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves celebrates his Verizon P1 Award for winning the pole for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves celebrates his Verizon P1 Award for winning the pole for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Automobile Club of Southern California Team Penske Chevrolet V-6 IndyCar, celebrates winning the pole Saturday, April 18, 2015 for Sunday`s Verizon IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Long Beach through the streets of Long Beach, California. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) celebrates winning the 2016 IndyCar title with victory at Sonoma   [pic credit: Chris Owens]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Will Power - Team Penske
Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) on his way to victory at Watkins Glen   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) on his way to pole at Watkins Glen   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Scott Dixon leads the Indycar field   [pic credit: Indycar media/Bret Kelley]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Simon Penske - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar media/Bret Kelley]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Joe Skibinski]
Scott Dixon - Target Chip Ganassi Racing   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/JOE SKIBINSKI]
Will Power - Penske  [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]

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