Simon Pagenaud’s perfect form at the Honda Indy Toronto continued in qualifying. The DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet driver delivered the goods when it counted to claim pole position for Sunday’s race in the type of dramatic last-lap fashion that has become the norm for Fast 6 qualifying shootouts.
Scott Dixon grabbed the early advantage in the shootout with his Chip Ganassi Racing PNC Bank Honda while his teammate, Felix Rosenqvist opted to make just one run, and it netted him second. Dixon then improved his time and stayed on the cam for one final lap…only to have a half-spin and stall shortly past the timing line! But there was no red flag and Pagenaud rocketed past a few moments later with a 58.4293s to take pole and continue what has been the most impressive weekend for the Frenchman since Indianapolis.
“I predicted a 58.3, 58.5 and I was right in the middle. Man, the car’s just been phenomenal,” enthused Pagenaud. “It’s not easy being at the back because you start your laps, Q1, Q2 and you’re in the back of the back and I can’t get the tires going the way I wanted to, and then I got traffic, so it was quite difficult to transfer (from the earlier rounds). But then in the Fast 6 it was perfect, I could get the tires up.
“That was a lot of fun, I extracted the best out of it. This is the best you can feel in racing, when you achieve what you expect.”
Dixon was a little frustrated at the spin that thwarted what he felt could have been a better lap.
“I just couldn’t get a lap together. I feel that could have been the lap had I finished it, but it’s been a tough weekend. This second-place start worked pretty good for us last year — we were able to come away with the win,” he noted. “But congrats to Simon — must be that time of the year man; must be trying to get a contract or something!”
Dixon revealed that a case of “tennis elbow” — an inflammation of the tendons in the elbow — has been troubling him for the past month and was especially problematic on the rough street circuit.
“Yeah, it’s been a bit of a nightmare,” related the defending champion. “I got it the week of Texas — on the sim I think — and then I had it all the way through at Le Mans; and then at Road America it was really bad in the race. So we’ve been trying to do some therapy with it but tennis elbow, there’s no easy fix — it might be an off-season project, we’ll see.”
The top two in points, Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi, will start third and fourth after both slapping the wall on their Fast 6 runs.
“I knew it would take a big lap and I was going for it. I went for it in Turn 11 and I ended up sliding and tapping the wall and bent the toe link, so I just had to get out of the way after that,” said Newgarden.
Rossi was similarly underwhelmed after clipping the wall on his final lap.
“I was on a lap that I thought was going to put us up more than it ultimately was going to, so I guess it just cost us third versus fourth,” Rossi mused. “The guys in front of us have a pretty good gap so we need to understand why that is.
“Firestone came up with a different tire for this year. And it’s lower grip, for sure, especially in the rears. So…trying to find that balance of protecting the rears but then not inducing too much understeer in the concrete patches, which exist in a lot of places here. It’s tough — it’s probably the toughest street course we go to, and we’ve got a lot of work to do overnight to figure out how to win this thing.”
The second Chip Ganassi Honda of Felix Rosenqvist and the Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet of Ed Jones rounded out the Fast 6. Marco Andretti also had an encouraging day for Andretti Autosport, posting his best qualifying session of the year in 10th.
Some big surprises came in the first round, as Will Power failed to advance, missing the top-six cut by a few tenths. Local hero James Hinchcliffe was also knocked out in the first round, in his case by a brilliant final lap from Ed Carpenter Racing’s Ed Jones that ended Pagenaud’s streak of sessions at the top of the times.
Colton Herta was another surprising non-entry in the Fast 12, although he was seeing the brighter side of it.
“It was a very competitive group and we just missed it — a bit too heavy on the front grip; we were sliding around a lot,” he related. “I think with the reds (option tires) you want a bit of understeer; that tends to be the way that the reds work the best. But this is probably the most hectic race of the year — the windows are huge so you can really do a lot starting from the back. I think it can completely flipflop.”