ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – official series release — Chris Jones/IndyCar photo —
After just one session of official competition Roger Penske’s Verizon IndyCar Series ‘Super Team’ may be unstoppable.
For the first time in its glorious IndyCar history Team Penske is a four-driver team. And all four drivers swept the top four positions in Saturday’s Firestone “Fast Six” Qualifications for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The debut of the Aero Kits produced a highly competitive qualification session with the same result as Will Power claimed his fifth career Verizon P1 Pole Award on the streets of St. Petersburg. Power broke the 13-year-old track record with a lap of 1:00:650 seconds in the second session around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street course. That was a speed of 106.841 mph in a Chevrolet.
It was Power’s 15th career Verizon P1 Pole Award on a street course. The last one came on these same St. Petersburg streets in 2013. Power’s last pole win was at Sonoma Raceway on August 24, 2014 and the defending series champion has 37 Verizon P1 Pole Awards in his career – sixth on the all-time list.
“I was really satisfied to get pole here today,” Power said. “All the practice sessions are working towards that, literally one lap that gets you pole. It’s a session where everyone gives it everything they’ve absolutely got.
“When you get pole, it’s very satisfying. It’s really difficult these days to do that. You don’t see anyone getting more than three or four poles during a season now. It’s the same for wins. Anytime you’re at that end of an IndyCar field, it’s awesome.”
But wait, there’s more.
Team Penske newcomer Simon Pagenaud qualified second at 1:00.725 (106.710 mph) for his best start since winning the pole for the first race of the 2014 Houston doubleheader. Helio Castroneves was third at 1:00.835 (106.517 mph) – his best at St. Petersburg since winning the pole in 2007. And 1999 CART champion and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya was the fourth fastest of the Team Penske drivers with a fourth-place qualification effort of 1:00.853 (106.486 mph).
In addition to the top four being Team Penske drivers they were also equipped by Chevrolet Aero Kits and Chevy engines. Takuma Sato of Japan was the fastest Honda driver and will line up fifth after running a lap at 1:01.149 (105.970 mph).
St. Petersburg resident and four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais was sixth, his best qualification effort at St. Petersburg since he won the pole in 2003. His lap was 1:01.154 (105.961 mph) in a Chevrolet.
Step one is over for Team Penske with qualifications. Will the dominance continue in Sunday’s race that begins at 3:30 p.m.?
“Racing is always a different story to qualifying,” Power said. “Obviously we’ve had a lot of success here. Everything’s got to fall your way on race day. You know how it can go. Just focus on the things you can control. There was a bit of guesswork with this new body kit. We don’t know how the tires will degrade, that type of thing. Just have to manage the best we can.
“We’re in a great position obviously as a team. We’ve been P1 in every session so far, 1, 2, 3, 4.”
With Power’s dominance at St. Petersburg and his 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship he has already established himself as the ‘Big Dog’ in IndyCar racing. The addition of Aero Kits is a new variable that could have affected the competitive equation.
If anything, it has made Team Penske stronger.
“It’s usually easier in a big team when something new happens because you can work it out faster than the smaller teams,” Power explained. “What was surprising is how tight it was in qualifying today between Chevy and Honda. When you think about it, different engine, different body kit, but very similar lap times.
“I was kind of worried that the competitiveness of this series wouldn’t be such this year. But it is. It’s right there as it was. So, yeah, to me it’s the toughest open-wheel series in the world to compete in, and probably the best racing that fans can watch. We just got to get it out there because I think people would love it.”
Team Penske has four of the best drivers in the series and although there are plenty of more battles to fight, Team Penske has quickly established itself as a “Fearsome Foursome” of racing talent.
“The thing is, all four drivers have a lot of experience, have worked with a lot of different teams — not Helio, but everyone else,” Power said. “Honestly, it seems as though Penske employs people with lots of experience. That’s the case there. So we know how to work together. I don’t think it’s a problem. I know when you’re younger, you’re working in a team with someone, it can be very intense, mind games, all that, but that definitely doesn’t go on at Penske.
“It’s just very experienced guys, great work ethic.”
So far it looks like a winning combination for Team Penske but it will be interesting to see how that plays out for the remainder of the season.
“There are four of us, four really good drivers, great equipment, similar equipment,” Pagenaud said. “It’s easy to look at the data and improve yourself personally in this corner if you’re not the best there. It just makes you stronger every session.
“It’s a good dynamic. We’re having a good time actually.”
Even Montoya, who isn’t afraid to speak his mind, is enjoying the added competition that comes with the addition of Pagenaud to an already star-studded lineup.
“For the team I think it shows how hard we work over the winter,” Montoya said. “I think it shows as well having Simon onboard and being a four-car team, I think it’s been really, really good. Running the Verizon car has been amazing. I don’t know, like we said yesterday, what could be better 1, 2, 3? It was a 1, 2, 3, and 4. To be honest, I think all the year is going to be like that.
“We just got to make sure we don’t beat each other.”