BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (April 25, 2015) – Helio Castroneves earned the Verizon P1 Award for the second consecutive race and extended a Team Penske streak of seven straight pole awards, a run that spans the last two Verizon IndyCar Series seasons.
Castroneves, driving the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet, recorded a quick lap of 1 minute, 7.1925 seconds on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course to claim the $10,000 pole award for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The pole was the 43rd of Castroneves’ career, which is fourth all time in Indy car history, and inches the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner one step closer to Bobby Unser, who is third on the all-time list with 49 poles.
The Firestone Fast Six was called with 1:40 left in the 10-minute segment because of lightning in the area. The three rounds of knockout qualifications set the 23-car starting grid for the 90-lap race April 26 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN). The weather forecast is for sun and temperatures in the mid-70s.
Castroneves set a track record at Long Beach a week ago and has three of Team Penske’s seven consecutive Verizon P1 Awards bridging the 2014 and ’15 seasons. Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power also has three and Juan Pablo Montoya started on the pole for the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana on April 12 based on entrant points as rain canceled the final segment of qualifying.
“It’s all about team effort,” said Castroneves, who entered the race weekend three points behind front-runner Montoya in the championship standings. “For us, every practice is qualifying. That helped us to push ourselves to be in this position. It’s not about because we have success here. I think it’s part of it, but it’s in the equipment. At the end of the day, it’s a team effort. Everyone is working hard.”
Castroneves won the inaugural Verizon IndyCar Series race at Barber Motorsports Park in 2010. The Verizon P1 Award winner has gone on to win the race twice in its five previous years (Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2013 and Power in 2011).
Power was second quick in the Firestone Fast Six (1:07.3833) and posted the quickest lap in qualifying at 1:06.8050 in the second 10-minute segment in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Scott Dixon set the lap record of 1:06.7750 (123.999 mph) in the first round of knockout qualifications in 2013.
Power has started from the pole three times (2014, 2011, 2010) in the five races at Barber Motorsports Park and won in 2011 and 2012. He earned the Verizon P1 Award in 2014 with a lap of 1:08.3120 in the Firestone Fast Six.
Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud qualified third in the No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet and Dixon qualified fourth in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Josef Newgarden, driving the No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet, and Tony Kanaan, in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, will share Row 3. It was the second top-six start in a row for Newgarden.
“I just don’t think we’re right up there for pole territory, but at least we’re in consistent Fast Six territory,” said Newgarden, whose best qualifying position on a road/street course is second on three different occasions. “That’s a good improvement for us. We’re definitely getting there. I’m excited about that but I’m a little worried about (the race). I think we’ve got a little work to do on our race car, to make it consistently fast over a stint.”
Hunter-Reay, who has won the past two races at Barber Motorsports Park, will have to come through the field to earn the three-peat. The reigning Indianapolis 500 champion qualified 18th in the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda.
Montoya, who won the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., will have considerable work to claim his fourth straight top-five finish of the season, and seventh consecutive top-five finish dating to 2014. He qualified 15th in the No. 2 Hawk Performance Team Penske Chevrolet.
“It’s always important to collect the points,” added Castroneves, who is seeking his first series championship. “But at this stage, I’m not thinking right now of that. I’m thinking about collecting the victory that slipped from our hands in Long Beach. I’m going to push as hard as I can to keep after that quest.”
All teams tested March 16-17 at Barber Motorsports Park for the first time with the new road/street and short oval aerodynamic bodywork packages.
2015 Verizon P1 Award winners:
Streets of St. Petersburg – Will Power, Team Penske (track record)
NOLA Motorsports Park – Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske (based on entrant points when qualifying was canceled by rain)
Streets of Long Beach – Helio Castroneves, Team Penske (track record)
Barber Motorsports Park — Helio Castroneves, Team Penske
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Adds Daly for Third Indy 500 Entry
Conor Daly has been striving for another opportunity since May 2013, when the Noblesville, Ind., native made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut for AJ Foyt Racing in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Now, in a few short days, Daly will be driving the No. 43 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in preparation for the 99th Indy 500, the team announced at Barber Motorsports Park.
“I have had a great relationship with Sam Schmidt since driving for him in Indy Lights and I’ve always wanted a shot with his Verizon IndyCar Series team,” said Daly, 23, who made his second series start last weekend in Long Beach for Dale Coyne Racing as a last-minute fill-in for injured Rocky Moran Jr. and finished 17th. “It’s an honor to make my second attempt at running the Indy 500.
“I can’t thank everyone enough who have put in the hours to pull this program together,” he added. “I am confident we will all benefit from this relationship going forward and I can’t wait to get to work on track.”
Daly will join SPM full-season drivers James Hinchcliffe and James Jakes at the May 3 IMS oval Promoter Test – the first on-track activity with the new Chevrolet and Honda speedway aerodynamic bodywork packages. Practice opens May 11 for the May 24 race.
“Conor raced for our team in Indy Lights in 2011for a partial season before heading off to Europe (to contest the GP2 Series), so we know what he is capable of,” team co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “He deserves to be competing in the Verizon IndyCar Series full time and we’re honored to be providing this opportunity.”
Daly advanced nine positions in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 to finish 22nd. He is driving the “Fastest Seat in Sports” two-seat IndyCar, which leads the field to the green flag, in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Hinchcliffe Continues Living the Space Dream
Hinchcliffe says he has a dream job driving in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but the Canadian has a special affinity for those involved in the space program. An admitted astronaut wanna-be since he attended space camp as a youngster, Hinchcliffe was thrilled Friday to visit the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
While there, he received a behind-the-scenes look at the Payload Operations Integration Center (POIC), where NASA prepares scientific research for the International Space Station, including the ways scientists continually improve the orbital unit’s Life Support System.
“I’m lucky with one of the coolest jobs in the world,” Hinchcliffe said. “There are very few people that can make a good argument to me that they have a better job than I do, but I think a few of those people that can are right here in this building and the ones like them across the world and orbiting Earth.”
Hinchcliffe’s passion for the space program was refueled in April 2014 when he attended space camp in Huntsville again with fellow driver Josef Newgarden, then met with astronauts Drew Feustel and Anna Fisher for special access to the Johnson Space Center in Houston last June.
“Through the last couple of years with INDYCAR, being able to come back to space camp, with a tour around Johnson Space Center, these are things that most people never get to do,” he said. “There are a lot of people that are big fans and very passionate about space that never have this opportunity that are probably much more deserving than I am. But that just makes me that much more appreciative to have the chance to come here and see what it is these guys do. And how they keep making miracles happen.”
Pedestrian Bridge Connects Barber Museum to Infield
Verizon IndyCar Series drivers joined Barber Motorsports Park founder George Barber in a ribbon-cutting event to open a 460-foot pedestrian bridge that connects the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum with the infield of the road course.
The project follows last year’s $4 million addition of the Barber Proving Grounds – a wet/dry skid pad that can accommodate events at the 830-acre facility while the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course is in use. The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, which last year was given the title of world’s largest motorcycle collection by Guinness World Records, annually draws more than 250,000 visitors from around the world.
Gonzalez Reaches Lifelong Goal, Later than Expected
Rodolfo Gonzalez’s journey to the Verizon IndyCar Series was “a little bit longer than I expected,” though the race craft gained along the way will prove invaluable when he debuts in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
“From when I was little I had two aims – either try to get to Formula One or the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said Gonzalez, 28, the native Venezuelan who qualified the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda in 21st position. “When I first went to Europe, I was 10, 11 years old and we were living in a small trailer in England crossing the country racing go-karts.
“That was the time when Bryan Herta, Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi all were fighting for the (CART) title,” added the 2006 British F3 National Class champion who made 64 GP2 Series starts over four years. “I was a big Zanardi fan. I remember watching the (1996) race at Laguna Seca and the overtaking maneuver Zanardi pulled on Herta and I said, ‘I’d like to be there some day and do that.”’
Longtime Formula One analyst Steve Matchett is joining chief announcer Leigh Diffey and analyst Townsend Bell in the NBCSN booth for telecasts this weekend. … Alabama-based Harbert Management Corporation is a sponsor of the No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet driven by Stefano Coletti this weekend. … WBC world heavyweight boxing champion Deontay Wilder of nearby Tuscaloosa, Ala., will be the grand marshal for Sunday’s race. Country music star Drake White will sing the national anthem. … Spencer Pigot (Juncos Racing) dominated the first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race of the weekend, winning by 6.7109 seconds over Jack Harvey (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian) … Weiron Tan (Andretti Autosport) led flag to flag to capture the first of two Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires races this weekend. … Nico Jamin won the second Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda race, following teammate Aaron Telitz’s (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) drive to victory in the first race Friday.
POST-QUALIFYING DRIVER QUOTES
WILL POWER (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We were very strong in qualifying, but unfortunately it rained before the end. I just kick myself because the two laps I did there in the Fast Six I didn’t go harder. But I’m very happy to be starting on the front row considering last week (at Long Beach). Starting up front is huge here – we can win from there. That’s definitely the plan tomorrow. It’s been a slow start to the season and I’m very determined to get that first win of the year. I’ve been knocking on the door so we’ll see if we can get the Verizon car up there tomorrow.”
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, series points leader): “Nothing too terribly wrong with the No. 2 Hawk Performance Chevy in qualifying, we just struggled to put a good lap together. We did have a few issues with the balance of the car. It is what it is. It’s tough because on these tires you really only get one lap and I missed it on that lap. The Hawk Performance Chevy is good, though, and we’ll do our best to pick our way through the field and towards the front.”
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet, Verizon P1 Award Winner): “It’s all about team effort. Today is just another team effort. You can see it’s 1-2-3. Juan Pablo is not there. But for us every practice is qualifying. That helped us to push ourselves to be in this position. It’s not about because we have success here. I think it’s part of it, but all the drivers as well, like Simon and Juan Pablo, they have their share. It’s in the equipment. In the end of the day it’s a team effort. Everyone is working hard.”
STEFANO COLETTI (No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): “I am a bit disappointed with how qualifying went today. We haven’t really found the grip that we need so I am sliding around and can’t put down a lap time. Unfortunately that is where we are right now but the team is working hard to try and solve it and hopefully we will have a better day tomorrow.”
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda): “It was a solid day for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics team. Getting in the top ten is obviously a good effort from the crew. I wish we maybe could’ve had a little more and gotten another row out of it, but there’s certainly been progress for the condensed schedule and limited track time. I think the guys did a great job tuning on the car so now we just have to switch gears and get into race mode. We have a lot of work to do after Long Beach. Hopefully this race is less processional and we can use some strategy to get some passes done on track. We’ll try to outsmart and outdrive some guys, but all in all, I’m really proud of the boys and looking forward to the race tomorrow.”
JAMES JAKES (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We made some good progress throughout the day today. It was nice to get one of the SPM cars in the top ten. The No. 7 UMP HelpForScoliosis.com car is just outside it so we made some great gains. We just need to find a few more tenths and then we should be right there battling for quickest Honda. I think we can do that tomorrow, get both cars in the mix and go from there. Obviously it’s going to be warmer, dry and no sign of rain tomorrow so conditions will be a little bit different, but we made some good progress and we’ll just focus on the race.”
SAGE KARAM (No. 8 Comfort Revolution / Big Machine Records Chevrolet): “I really just spent the morning getting comfortable in the car again and adjusting. My wrist is back to almost 100% and my confidence is back up from the last time we tested here. Qualifying was a big step in the right direction for us. It was the first time we got out of Q1 so that was huge. I’m happy with the way things are going and can’t wait to get the race started and see what the car can do.”
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Coke Chevrolet): “The Coke car felt pretty good early in the day and we unloaded fast off of the truck. I think there is a little more pressure in getting up to speed quickly here as the weekend went from a traditional three-day format to a two-day format. Qualifying for us went well, and I understand they had to cut it just a bit short after the five minutes of guaranteed green-flag time had been satisfied. Helio put up a great lap when it counted and we’ll shoot at the top three Penske cars tomorrow.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): “Qualifying in the top six here at Barber Motorsports Park feels really good, especially after how close we were last weekend to moving on in Long Beach. We didn’t have the best first practice this morning, but we were able to make some changes and have a much better second practice. The car just felt really good the first two rounds of qualifying. Once it started raining and the track started getting wet I just didn’t feel like I was going to be able to advance much more and we didn’t want to waste the tires, so we decided to come in and take sixth. I think we have a lot of momentum as a team going in to tomorrow.”
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 11 Team Mistic E-Cigs-KVSH Chevrolet): “The Mistic machine was in the top five in both the practice sessions, so we had hopes that we would stay there. We missed the Firestone Fast Six by just a couple hundredths of a second, so obviously we are a little disappointed. It can go either way in these conditions. It wasn’t my greatest lap and we just seem to be struggling a little bit on road courses when we put the red (alternate) tires on. We are getting better, but we still need to fine tune the thing. The Mistic guys did a good job today, now we just have to go get the car ready for race day.”
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda): “It (fastest lap) was a really good lap. I don’t know if there was much left in the Steak ‘n Shake car. These guys worked very hard, we weren’t very good in the second practice and we fought back here in qualifying. It’s good to be the fastest Honda. We have to close the gap and get up there, get more competitive. It feels good to be where we are but we’ve got all these Penske’s and Ganassi’s we’ve got to keep up with which is pretty challenging. I think we have a good chance in the race starting eighth. Anything can happen here. We’ve got to be smart and we’ve got to take care of the rear tires. Hopefully it’s a little easier to follow than Long Beach. I think we can get a good result. I feel good about it.”
LUCA FILIPPI (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Racing Chevrolet): “It has been a good team effort with both cars in the Top 10 and Josef Newgarden making it to the Fast 6. I thought we could have qualified a little higher than ninth, but it is a good place to start the race. I am sure we will have a strong pace tomorrow and be able to build on that. We are looking forward to a good result for both cars!”
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet): “It’s interesting here with the aero kits with all the high-speed corners and the hairpin – so we get to see what the aero kits are doing at different speeds. It really helps the teams to understand the new bits and pieces as we try to optimize them. I love this track, but the only thing I would say is the level of commitment is beyond limits. You really have to push yourself before you get in the car and kind of turn off your brain a bit. But it’s fun.”
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 AndrettiTV Cinsay Honda): “For sure it’s been a disappointing day. Unfortunately, we were not really competitive in any of the sessions. It’s really strange, because as a team, previously we’ve been really quick at this track. We just don’t have the balance right. For tomorrow’s race we’ll see what happens. We’re going to be really risky with our strategy, so we’ll see how it goes.”
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Snapple Honda): “We’re just struggling right now with understeer, but we had to sort of back off and gap. We only had one timed lap on the new tires, so the tires weren’t completely in on that lap because I couldn’t push on the out lap. I think that’s what cost us the one-tenth (of a second) we missed (advancing to the top 12) by. We’re all trying to find the sweet spot, and I don’t think we have yet. We always have decent race cars here, but we have to see. We’ve been on new tires all day today so we have to see where the degradation goes.”
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We just caught slower traffic there, I gave (Francesco Dracone) a huge gap to begin with knowing he was off pace, and I just caught him over and over again every lap. It’s our own fault for putting ourselves out there in that position though… We’re all in the same boat. We’re all trying really hard to make it better. I love this racetrack and it’s a shame we’re not getting around here quicker right now. But we’ll be working hard at it, that’s for sure.”
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet): “We’re getting there. We definitely didn’t have enough for Helio Castroneves, Will Power, or Scott Dixon. We aren’t right up there in pole territory, but at least we are consistently in Fast Six territory. That’s a good improvement for us and I am excited about that. We have a little work to do on our race car to make it consistently faster over a stint. Our team is strong, the Hartman Oil crew is full of good guys and good resources. We need to put it together and have a good, solid result tomorrow.”
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): “Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing was excited to make it out of Group 1 and advance into the Top 12. The No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevrolet is pretty quick and to have all four Ganassi cars in the Top 12 is a solid result for the day. I’m excited to go racing tomorrow. We always have a pretty good race here and the guys have been really consistent on pit lane so far this season. We’ll just be smart tomorrow and hopefully have a good clean race.”