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Track big or small, Pagenaud fastest in NTT P1 Award qualifying

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Friday, July 19th, 2019

Courtesy of the NTT IndyCar Series

NEWTON, Iowa – Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud is on a drive to win his second NTT IndyCar Series championship, and he is doing so with excellence at various types of tracks.

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Chris Owens

A week after winning the Toronto street race from the pole, the winner of the large-oval Indianapolis 500 captured Friday’s NTT P1 Award at Iowa Speedway, the season’s smallest track. Pagenaud will lead a field of 22 cars to the green flag of Saturday’s Iowa 300 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Channel 209).

The number of laps in Friday’s qualifying is half of what is required at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it’s no less intense. The laps are quick and busy, a 17-second blur over 7/8th of a mile. Only Pagenaud completed the two laps at an average speed in excess of 180 mph.

The ability to excel in different disciplines is what Pagenaud is most proud of.

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Chris Owens

“We do superspeedways, one-and-a-half-mile speedways, short ovals, street courses, road courses,” he said. “To win a championship here, you need to be really complete. It takes a lifetime to be a complete driver, let me tell you.

“But that’s what I enjoy about INDYCAR – the diversity in skills, in tracks. I think for the fans, they get everything they want to see throughout the season.”

RESULTS: Iowa 300 qualifying

Pagenaud’s 180.073 mph run produced his third pole of the season and second in four years at this venue. He will receive a bonus point for the effort, drawing him to 38 points of the series lead with six remaining races. As competitive as the series is, each point matters.

Pagenaud still trails teammate Josef Newgarden, the series points leader, and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who is four points behind Newgarden. Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing is 86 points out of the top spot.

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Joe Skibinski

Team Penske drivers swept the top three qualifying positions with Will Power second (179.589 mph) and Newgarden third (179.449). It is the fifth consecutive year one of Roger Penske’s drivers have won the pole, with Power securing the previous two. But nothing will be a given during Saturday’s race, especially with the traffic typically created by short-oval racing. Last year there were 234 passes for position and 955 overall.

Team Penske’s only race win at Iowa came in 2017 with Helio Castroneves. Last year, Newgarden led 229 of the 300 laps, but was forced to settle for a fourth-place finish when three other drivers passed on a late chance to pit for new tires. No pole winner has won the Iowa race.

“You make one mistake (and) you can find yourself a lap behind (the leader),” Pagenaud said. “It’s important to stay on top of your game the whole time. It’s also important not to freak out. When the (car’s) balance goes away, sometimes you tend to get stressed out and gain a sense of urgency. That’s when you make more mistakes.

Marco Andretti. Photo by Joe Skibinski

“Very important to keep your emotions in check, but also you have to be aggressive. You can’t go through traffic without being aggressive. It’s a very fine line. It’s very difficult to find that (proper) rhythm.”

Friday’s qualifying was held amid searing heat, with track temperatures pushing 135 degrees. Conditions figure to be better for the race, which should end a half-hour after official sunset. How competitors manage tires will help determine the outcome.

Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing qualified fourth (177.646 mph) with James Hinchcliffe of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports fifth (176.200 mph) and Rossi sixth (176.057 mph). Dixon of qualified eighth at 175.725 mph.

Among the top title contenders, only Newgarden is a former race winner here.

To watch today’s qualifying highlights in fewer than 5 minutes, visit https://bit.ly/2XTzSh6.

‘What They’re Saying’ from Iowa 300 qualifying

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “Yeah, just not enough today, so we will go tomorrow. I think it will be fine, it just wasn’t enough there. The Hitachi car, it feels good. Chevy, I think, has done a great job for us, so now we will work on the race.” 

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Tough qualifying here at Iowa, to be honest. I thought we were going to be a little bit better, but it is what it is. The track was really dirty on the outside and I’ve been running the outside all practice long. I never tried the inside, and on my warmup lap, I had a moment because the track was so slippery, so I had to change the line and try the inside. Everybody has to adapt, but I don’t know, didn’t quite do a great job today. Just looking forward to the race now.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “A good run for No. 5 Arrow car. These track conditions are so tough right now with the temperatures the way they are, the wind the way it is. I have to thank (teammate) Marcus (Ericsson) for giving me good advice from his run. We’re starting better than we did last year and we won from 11th last year. The race car was really good in practice, so thanks to the Arrow SPM boys for giving us a strong car. We’ll see where we can go from here.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “I think that was a decent qualifying. Obviously, top 10 is a good result. I’m still learning a lot on the ovals and this is a very different type of oval compared to Texas and Indianapolis. I think we made some good setup changes from practice where I wasn’t 100 percent happy with the car, but the Arrow car is in a much better place for me now. I still feel like it was not the perfect run on the driving side; there is still time there to find, but the result is good. We know we have a strong car. I think we should be very pleased with our starting position for tomorrow. We can have a really great result and a great race from P10.” 

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “We tried a few different things today for qualifying and might have missed a little there. I think the PNC Bank car felt good on long runs though. Hopefully, that means we’ll be good for the race. Obviously, conditions will change and you need to keep up with that. It doesn’t really matter where you start here unless you’re dead last. We’ll keep working on it, and hopefully, have a car to compete with tomorrow night.” 

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think it definitely helped for us to have the test here. It helped getting up to speed here in practice this morning, for sure. I didn’t feel great with my qualifying run. The balance didn’t seem quite right, and so that’s something we need to go back and work on with the PNC Bank car.” 

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “Is it any surprise that I’m second? Is it any surprise (laughter)? It isn’t for me. That’s just this year. No, (the run) was actually pretty good. The car was good. All three (Penske) cars were good.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Frustrating. I think I could have been a little bit better. Obviously, the track had some oil dry and that’s the price we pay when we qualify early. The track is only going to get better. The way you do the qualifying draw is by championship points and we didn’t do ourselves any favors by being in the back. This is a track where I led over 500 laps in the course of my career and have a lot of podium finishes, so I’m hopeful this will be our turnaround weekend for sure.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 One Cure Honda): “Practice didn’t go great and you could see that by the lap times. Qualifying was good, I thought we did a good, solid job. The car had a lot of understeer, but compared to practice, I’ll take it. The One Cure car seemed to have pace; we’ve just got to refine that. And in 175-degree temps, it’s hard to refine. Now we move on to final practice in race time conditions and we’ll see what we’ve got.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda): “The No. 18 SealMaster Honda car was OK this morning. Then for the qualifying run, I had no grip. I’m not sure what happened between the morning practice and qualifying. We’ll take a look at the data and see what we can come up with.” 

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda): “It’s difficult getting adjusted to the short oval. It’s tough, to say the least. I was loose my whole run. The car was moving out of Turn 2 and I had a massive moment out of Turn 4, so I just kept my foot in it. That said, I’m happy with our qualifying run today. It’s our best start on an oval. Now we have to keep it going tomorrow. Hopefully, we can move up the field during the race and get another top 10 finish on an oval.” 

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “We expected the track to be a little more free than what it was. We tightened up our car for qualifying having expected the conditions and the rubber from the previous series to free us up. It was the wrong way; we were way too tight and had way too much understeer, so it was hard to attack like you want to in qualifying. A little frustrating because I was happy with the Autogeek Chevrolet in practice, especially on race runs. I thought we had better pace than what we showed. Our qual sim in practice wasn’t that good, so I thought we were going to have a lot better showing in qualifying. The beauty of this racetrack is it has multiple lanes, so you can get to the front if you have a good car. We’ll just have to get it right tonight in this next practice and have a strong first stint tomorrow to protect ourselves and stay on the lead lap.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “We definitely need to see where we can improve. The car has been a bit of a handful so far. We had a great race here last year, so we know what we need from the car. We just have to try and find it. Hopefully, we can have a good session this evening and get the Autogeek Chevy back up front.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “(The qualifying session) was very intense, with the temperature being so high. The tarmac (track temperature) was 135 degrees Fahrenheit. In these conditions, the car slides around quite a bit. It’s all about having the right balance on the race car. We had a good snapshot this morning of how the car was. We ran quite a bit in traffic. We knew we had to make some adjustments to be really strong on long runs. At the end, we did a qualifying run. (it was) pretty good. Ben (Bretzman) is really good at this stuff, my engineer. We just worked on the little details and made sure we would have enough balance and grip to go through the corner.” 

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda): “We just missed the mark by a mile. We had really good pace in the first practice session, ending P10. We thought we had a lot more in the car and the changes we made between sessions was just not the way to go. I had too much understeer and couldn’t carry the speed we need. It is embarrassing to be starting 20th, but we will find a way to make our way to the front, like we usually do.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “It has been a tough day, for sure. We can’t really focus on one end of the car; we are fighting both of them. That (sixth place) was our potential, maybe fourth. The Penske cars have looked really strong, which is unfortunate. We have one more (practice) session this afternoon to really dial in that No. 27 NAPA Andretti Honda.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We were a bit handcuffed during our run, meaning I couldn’t really shift the balance one way or the other with the tools. I was too loose mid-corner and then (had) big understeer really late. The rear of the car would straighten up, then after that, the front would really take off coming up the hill. There wasn’t much I could do with it. I just had to ride it out. We just missed the balance. It’s unfortunate, but if you have a good race car here you can make it all up. That’s what we’ll be looking to do – try to get this DHL 28 car up to the front.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “The first lap was pretty good, but unfortunately, on the second lap I had a huge wash out in Turn 2 and had to lift. Considering we had a difficult practice this morning, I think the team did a great job. Iowa is always special for me since I got my first pole position here. There is no rest here. The whole way, all 300 laps, is just very exciting and a hard battle. We had a good race last year and there is no reason why we can repeat that this year.”  

SAGE KARAM (No. 31 SmartStop Self Storage Carlin Chevrolet): “I’m really pleased with our qualifying effort this afternoon here at Iowa. The track was a bit different than it was this morning with the ARCA cars running around this afternoon. They put their rubber down and I think it took a few runs from a few of us up front in the qualifying line to get the Firestone rubber laid back down. I’d say that definitely threw a curve ball in our plan, but we had a really good run and the No. 31 SmartStop Self Storage Carlin Chevrolet felt really good. The car is nice and smooth and feels really consistent, so I was happy to bring it home and get a 14th-place starting position for Carlin and Smart Stop Self Storage.”

CONOR DALY (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): “The conditions were really tough out there, especially being the first car out after the ARCA cars ran right before qualifying. There was junk rubber and oil all over the outside, which made it tough to run up high. I love lane two in Turns 3 and 4, which is where I was really comfortable all morning in practice, but I just couldn’t run it. I had to be pretty dedicated to the low line and I just didn’t like it down there. It’s just a shame, because I think the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet had a little more speed in it than that. We’re going to put our focus now on tonight’s practice and get our race car a bit more fine-tuned before green flag tomorrow night.” 

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda): “We had a really great turnaround from what we had in Practice 1. We struggled this morning and finished 18th, so to recover from that to qualify 11th is great. Looking forward to tomorrow’s race at Iowa Speedway. I’ve always loved racing here. The No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner boys have been working so hard and strong. We’re looking for a good result. 

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “The car caught me out. It was pretty different end to end from practice. The car was really loose in Turns 3 and 4, then we had understeer in Turns 1 and 2. The lap is a short one, making it hard to switch back and forth with the tools. We need to find that balance during practice tonight. We have to get the car working over the bumps. This team was pretty good here when it was smooth and now it feels almost like a different racetrack.”

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