Castroneves repeats as Long Beach pole winner to up career total to 47

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Castroneves repeats as Long Beach pole winner to up career total to 47

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 16, 2016) – Helio Castroneves continued his mastery of Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying by winning the Verizon P1 Award today, earning the pole position at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The Team Penske driver, in his 19th Indy car season, collected his 47th career pole with a lap of 1 minute, 7.1246 seconds (105.547 mph) in Firestone Fast Six competition. It moved the 40-year-old Brazilian within two poles of third-place Bobby Unser in Indy car history as Castroneves led all four Team Penske entries qualifying in the top six for Sunday’s 80-lap race on the iconic 1.968-mile temporary street course.

For complete qualifying results, click here.

“We’ve been good all weekend long, we’ve been working together all weekend long,” Castroneves said. “I would say Team Penske probably had the upper hand. At the end of the day, the No. 3 (car) ended up in P1. They say it’s better to be lucky than good and we plan very well.”

The Firestone Fast Six session, the last of three knockout rounds of Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying, was interrupted by a red flag caused when Will Power went off course in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy. Power, who had paced two of the three practice sessions leading to qualifying, lost his fastest two laps of the Fast Six by rule and was not permitted to finish the session. INDYCAR was able to restart the session to allow the remaining five cars a chance to post one timed lap.

It is the second straight Long Beach pole for Castroneves and third of his career on the circuit. Castroneves won from the pole at Long Beach in 2001.

The driver of the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet also has back-to-back poles in the 2016 season, following his top qualifying effort for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan joined the Penske quartet up front. Dixon, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2015 Long Beach winner, notched his best qualifying effort in 10 tries at Long Beach, joining Castroneves on the front row with a lap of 1:07.4455 (105.045 mph) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

“I’m stoked, considering how we started this weekend,” Dixon said. “We tried a totally different setup from last year. The cars have changed, especially aerodynamically, so we thought we might need some different things, but that wasn’t the case.

“Even this morning, we struggled a little bit. Some good old front wing (added) helped us today as we were able to carry the speed of the Target car through the corners,” added Dixon, whose lap in the second segment of qualifying came within two-hundredths of a second of Castroneves’ track record set in 2015. “We could have had (the pole) if the qualifying had carried through. We had the speed for pole, but front row is a good place to start and hopefully we can replicate the race from last year.”

Simon Pagenaud qualified third in the No. 22 PPG Automotive Finish Chevrolet (1:07.7410), Kanaan fourth in the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet (1:07.7951), Juan Pablo Montoya fifth in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevy (1:07.9054) and Power sixth (no time due to the penalty).

“Will was definitely in a league of his own and he seems to be putting up phenomenal laps,” Castroneves said. “But in the end, you saw Dixon up there, you saw Kanaan up there, Juan Pablo, Simon. It was a mix but I’ll take it. Definitely, AAA of Southern California and the entire Chevy team did a phenomenal job. But, hey, it’s the right spot to start so let’s keep it.”

Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is the third of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, as Indy cars race for the 33rd consecutive year on the streets of Long Beach. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

INDYCAR race steward Papis finishes second in final Pro/Celebrity Race

The 40th and final Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race featured a field full of former winners in its farewell, including four former Indy car drivers – Eddie Lawson, Max Papis, Al Unser Jr. and Jimmy Vasser. But it was actor Alfonso Ribeiro who drove to victory, the fourth for the former “Dancing with the Stars” champion.

With the starting field inverted from Friday qualifying, Ribeiro moved from eighth place to first in the opening two laps of the 10-lap event that was red-flagged on Lap 3 when Sean Patrick Flannery ran into the back of the disabled car of Brett Davern as it was being loaded onto a tow truck. After the restart, Ribeiro held off Papis, the former Indy car driver who is now an INDYCAR race steward, who charged from 15th starting position to finish second.

Afterward, most said it was a bittersweet moment that the fun but competitive race between pros and celebrities race will not continue.

“I’ve been around this sport, done a lot of different things, raced almost everything there is to race in my life,” Papis said. “What I love about what happened today is we were able to share what wakes me up in the morning every day: the passion for the sport. These people have it and they have the same love, maybe they haven’t experienced everything I have done on the pro side, but it’s pretty amazing.

“Today, having my family on the podium with me with all the other kids was maybe the joy of my life.”

Bell’s Indy 500 entry sponsored by California Pizza Kitchen, Robert Graham

Townsend Bell’s car for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will have a definitive Golden State flair as California Pizza Kitchen was named co-primary sponsor of the No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda he will drive in the historic race May 29.

Bell, a native Californian, also has long-time sponsor and fashion leader Robert Graham returning as a co-primary sponsor. For California Pizza Kitchen, founded in 1985 in Beverly Hills and now a global brand, it marks a first venture into Verizon IndyCar Series racing.

“Being a California native, I cannot think of a better fit than California Pizza Kitchen to join our team for the 100th Running of the Indy 500,” said Bell. “It’s awesome to represent a brand that I grew up with here. … I’m also proud to have Robert Graham on board again for 2016 and cannot wait to unveil the No. 29 car in May.”

Added Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti, “It’s great to have California Pizza Kitchen come on board for Townsend’s Indy 500 program, especially as a new brand coming into the sport for such a historic event. To have California Pizza Kitchen’s partnership combined with Robert Graham’s continued support, the No. 29 car and Townsend are positioned for eye-catching success on all fronts.”

Aleshin honoring anniversary of Gagarin’s space flight with decal on car

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Mikhail Aleshin is carrying an image of fellow Russian and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on the nose of his No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in honor of the 55th anniversary of Gagarin becoming the first human in space.

The Vostok 1 spacecraft, carrying Gagarin, was launched into space on the morning of April 12, 1961. Gagarin spent 108 minutes in the tiny capsule, completing the first human orbit around Earth before landing back on Soviet soil.

Dates for 2017 Long Beach race announced

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach announced today that the 2017 race weekend is scheduled for April 7-9.

Long Beach becomes the third Verizon IndyCar Series event to announce its dates for next season. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be held March 10-12 and the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will be May 28.