Not even a sore back that nearly kept him out of the race car could prevent Simon Pagenaud from winning another Verizon P1 Award and setting another Verizon IndyCar Series track record.
The 2016 championship leader hustled his #22 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 1m 3.8700s to edge Team Penske team-mate Will Power for the pole position and will lead the 22-car field to start Sunday's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
It marked the sixth track record etched in Verizon IndyCar Series competition this year and second for Pagenaud. The 32-year old Frenchman accomplished the feat while nursing a back injury sustained early in Friday's first practice session.
"All of a sudden it was like somebody jammed a knife in my back," Pagenaud said. "This morning the pain was ten out of ten. I didn't know if I was going to be doing qualifying, to be honest. But the doctors took good care of me and I managed to get in the car, and once the adrenaline got in, it was better."
Pagenaud's best lap in the Firestone Fast Six - the climactic third round of knockout qualifying - was more than seven-tenths of a second quicker than the track record set last year by Scott Dixon. It gave Pagenaud a series-leading six pole positions this season, eight for his career and 244 in Indy cars for fabled Team Penske, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
"[The Firestone Fast Six] was awesome with Will," said Pagenaud, who has advanced to the final round of qualifying at all eight road/street venues this year and set the lap record for Detroit's Raceway at Belle Isle Park in June. "What a battle. The PPG car was really hooked up today. Thanks to Team Penske. They give us the best equipment out there."
Power, in the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, ran second at 1m 03.9381s. Despite missing the first race of the season with an inner-ear infection, Power is second in the championship, 47 points behind Pagenaud entering the Mid-Ohio race weekend. Threatening clouds and periodic light rain on portions of the permanent road course threw a wrench into everyone's qualifying strategies.
"It was just like mayhem, you know, not knowing what tires to use, and everyone went out on reds [alternate tyres] so we went out and did one lap on blacks [primary tyres] and came straight in for reds," Power said. "It was just a mixed-up session and it was tiring as hell because you had to run hard every single lap. It was crazy."
Josef Newgarden qualified third in the #21 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium/ECR Chevrolet, while Ryan Hunter-Reay was the lead Honda, qualifying fourth in the # 28 DHL entry for Andretti Autosport.
"Hopefully we'll continue off where we left at Road America and Detroit, third and fourth there," Hunter-Reay said. "Hopefully we can get that DHL Honda up front. It would be great to have a great result for Honda here this weekend at one of their home races."
Past Mid-Ohio winners occupied the next four qualifying positions, with Charlie Kimball (2013) fifth, Graham Rahal (2015) sixth, Helio Castroneves (2000 and '01) seventh and Juan Pablo Montoya (1999) eighth.
Five-time Mid-Ohio winner Dixon will go off eleventh in the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Dixon's team mistimed his final run in the second segment of qualifying and he failed to advance to the Firestone Fast Six.
"We waited too much," said Dixon, the 39-time career race winner currently fourth in the championship. "The team thought we would be safe. 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."