AVONDALE, Arizona – Saving the best for last worked to Sebastien Bourdais’ advantage in Verizon P1 Award qualifying today for the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway.
Able to qualify last of the 23 drivers on Friday due his status as the Verizon IndyCar Series points leader, Bourdais continued his sizzling start to the 2018 season by setting the fastest speed and earning the pole position for Saturday night’s race.
DESERT DIAMOND WEST VALLEY CASINO PHOENIX GRAND PRIX: Qualifying results
Bourdais, who won the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 11, averaged 188.539 mph for his two qualifying laps around ISM Raceway’s 1.022-mile oval in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan. It earned the four-time Indy car champion the 34th pole position of his 13-year Indy car career, breaking a tie for seventh place on the all-time list with Dario Franchitti.
“We just have got a great group of guys working really hard, trying to make it happen,” Bourdais said. “When you do, it's really sweet.
“I really knew what I had (and) that's the best possible way to go qualifying. I knew I could hang it out because I knew what I was running.”
Bourdais qualified in preferred cooler conditions under the setting sun. It helped the 39-year-old from Le Mans, France, earn a pole position on an oval for the first time since Milwaukee in June 2006, when he was in the midst of winning four consecutive Champ Car titles. It was also the second pole in the 35-year history of Dale Coyne Racing, following Mike Conway at Detroit’s Belle Isle in 2013.
“That SealMaster No. 18 Honda was really solid,” Bourdais said. “As soon as that track temp cooled off, it just gives you all the grip you need to make it happen. It’s high tension, high pressure, really listening to the car and making sure you don’t overdo it.”
Simon Pagenaud, last year’s race winner at ISM Raceway, qualified second with a two-lap average of 188.148 mph in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet. Teammate and 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power was third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, at 186.852 mph.
“I think we did a really good job considering the conditions,” said Pagenaud, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “The car, she was really nice, it was perfect. The No. 22 Menards team did a really good job. I think we’ve got a really good race car, so I’m excited.”
Alexander Rossi qualified fourth for Andretti Autosport in the No. 27 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda (185.741 mph). Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcliffe and rookie Robert Wickens locked up the third row of the starting grid: Hinchcliffe qualifying fifth at 185.741 mph in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda and Wickens sixth in the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda (185.362 mph).
“A huge credit to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports guys because we did not have a great test here back in February,” Hinchcliffe said. “Obviously things have changed a lot conditions-wise, but we went back (after the test), had a big think about it, a big look inside ourselves. I just can’t thank those guys and gal enough for getting us good cars and getting us both up there. It’s awesome.”
Several drivers expected to contend for the pole struggled in qualifying. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing led every session of the Phoenix open test in February, but drivers Graham Rahal (No. 15 One Cure Honda) and Takuma Sato (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) qualified 12th and 13th, respectively. Four-time series champion and 2016 Phoenix winner Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) was 17th, Ed Carpenter (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) was 18th and Marco Andretti (No. 98 Oberto Circle K / Curb Honda) was 20th.
Andretti’s crew discovered a mechanical issue with his car after the run that hindered his effort.
“We were a lot too low on our qual run – we weren’t expecting the big pace gain,” Andretti said. “I was just bottoming everywhere and at the limit of the deck of the car. After qualifying we found that the skid (plate) was pulling down and we were bottoming in third gear. That caused our struggle and lost time. We’re going to need to make some headway and work our way back in the race.”
Saturday’s 250-lap race will be the 64th for Indy cars at the historic mile oval outside Phoenix dating to when the track opened in 1964. The Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix airs live at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.