Mikhail Aleshin made Indycar history by becoming the first Russian driver to win a pole position in Verizon P1 Award qualifying at the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.
The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver averaged 220.445mph over two laps in the #7 SMP Racing Honda to collect his first pole in his 31st career Verizon IndyCar Series start. Aleshin will lead the field to the green flag for the 200-lap marathon on the 2.5-mile 'Tricky Triangle' oval in what will be the 13th race to be completed on the 16-race schedule.
"It's obviously very difficult to explain what I feel now," the reserved 29-year old Muscovite admitted, "It's a lot of emotions definitely. It's my first pole in IndyCar and I am so happy to bring the #7 SMP Racing car up there.
"The team did an amazing job. We had a couple of moments in turn one, but I decided to keep it flat and see what would happen. [Hitting] the wall didn't happen, pole position happened. Amazing."
Aleshin led a contingent of the top five qualifiers representing five teams. Also, in fitting with the ongoing 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, today's top six qualifiers also hailed from six nations.
American Josef Newgarden, currently fourth in the point standings, qualified second at 220.195mph in the #21 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing. It continued strong showings for Newgarden on superspeedway ovals in 2016 - he qualified and finished third at the 100th Indianapolis 500 in May and qualified fifth and was running up front at the rain-suspended Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway in June when he was involved in a crash -
but he believed he could have won the pole today had he not asked for a set-up change just before qualifying.
"I think where we rolled out with would have been enough," Newgarden said. "It's my fault that we changed it. I'm disappointed about that. You always want the pole. We have a great chemistry and group with our people, but sometimes I mess up. Congrats to Mikhail, great job by him. We didn't have enough today, but tomorrow is what counts."
Takuma Sato will start third in the #14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda, the best qualifying effort for the Japanese driver since he won the pole for the second Chevrolet Dual in Detroit race in 2014. Brazil's Helio Castroneves will start next to Sato in row two after logging two laps at an average of 219.781mph in the #3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.
"I'm very, very happy about our qualifying run," Sato said. "We had a very good baseline car. We tested here a couple weeks ago, which helped massively, and we gained a good understanding for the strong superspeedway package that Honda worked so hard on and it looks like we have a pretty strong car."
Row three will consist of Colombia's Carloz Munoz, in the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda, and Canada's James Hinchcliffe, Aleshin's team-mate in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports line-up.
Championship leader Simon Pagenaud qualified 14th in the #22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet , six places behind the man whom he holds a 58-point advantage over, with team-mate Will Power qualifying eighth in the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won the 2015 ABC Supply 500, was uninjured in a crash during morning practice but his car - the same chassis that won the 2014 Indianapolis 500 - could not be repaired in time to make a qualifying attempt. Hunter-Reay will thus start the race in 22nd position in the #28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport.
Two other drivers - Charlie Kimball and Juan Pablo Montoya - also crashed in morning practice but were able to make qualifying attempts. Montoya, the 2014 Pocono winner, will start 15th in the #2 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet and Kimball 16th in the #83 Tresiba Chevy.