St. Pete winner scores his first pole of 2018
BY: BRUCE MARTIN
Sebastien Bourdais’ magical return to full-time duty in the Verizon IndyCar Series continued Friday as the Dale Coyne Racing driver won the pole for Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix.
Bourdais, who won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for the second-straight season on March 11, was the last driver to make a qualification attempt Friday evening at ISM Raceway. He charged to the pole with two laps in 19.5 seconds for a total time of 39.0285 around the 1.022-mile short oval for a two-lap average speed of 188.539 miles per Hour in the No. 18 Honda.
It was Bourdais’ first pole of 2018 and the 34th pole of his Indy car career, which gives him sole possession of seventh place on the all-time list. He was previously tied with Dario Franchitti.
Bourdais, who suffered multiple pelvic fractures and a broken right hip in a brutal crash in Turn 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during his first qualification attempt on May 20 for the 101st Indianapolis 500, won his first pole since Mid-Ohio in 2014. It is his first oval pole since 2006 when he won the pole at Milwaukee.
It is the second pole position in the history of Dale Coyne Racing and its first pole since Mike Conway won the pole at Detroit in 2013.
“I have to say every time I jump in that car in qualifying trim and stuff, I think (about my crash in qualifying for the 2017 Indianapolis 500),” Bourdais admitted. “It stays in the back of your mind. You fight yourself more than the car, I think at some point.
“It was just a good effort. The guys did a really good job. Obviously, qualifying position is pretty big. I knew it was going to take a flat (Turn) 3 and 4. I wasn’t quite sure about Turn 1 and 2 and how much I needed to dig. The car was really solid. That SealMaster No. 18 Honda was really solid. 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. It’s a great achievement for the whole Dale Coyne Racing team with Vasser and Sullivan.”
This is the first oval race for the new aerodynamic package that is used on all cars in 2018. The car features about 20 percent less downforce from last year and far less aerodynamic drag and that has made the cars feel much lighter and difficult to drive.
That has put more control in the driver’s hands and that, combined with tire degradation, should make for a better race than 2016 and 2017 when the higher-downforce cars essentially stayed on the lower line, making passing extremely difficult.
Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud, the defending champion of this race, qualified second, at 188.148 mph over two laps in a Chevrolet, his first front row start of 2018 and his best start at ISM Raceway.
“It was fun,” Pagenaud said. “What a phenomenal qualifying session for our team. We were mid pack, and I knew we would go faster at the end. When you see the lap time hold on, you hope. The hope was strong.
“Congratulations Seb (Sebastien Bourdais). Very cool that we have a French front row on an oval. It’s rare. It’s very cool for him, too. He’s obviously having great success right now. Well deserved. It’s good for him, but we’re friends and want to beat each other really bad. He got me today, I’ll try to get him tomorrow.
“But the conditions were a lot easier this afternoon. This morning was super tough. Very, very difficult, very greasy. The cars were sliding around, which actually I thought was good because driving was really difficult. This afternoon with the temperature going down for qualifying, it got better, everybody got better. It was easier to drive. I would say qualifying was not as challenging as this morning practice. I think the race is going to be quite similar to qualifying. The cars are fun to drive. So far, I love it. Hopefully, we can bring another trophy.”
Team Penske driver Will Power, qualified third in another Chevrolet with a two-lap average of 186.852 mph followed by Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi’s Honda at 186.824 mph.
The Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports Canadian combination of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens were fifth and sixth with two-lap averages of 185.741 mph and 185.362 mph respectively.
Saturday night’s race begins with the NBCSN telecast at 9 p.m. Eastern Time with the green flag waving shortly after 9:30 p.m. The race can also be heard on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network Sirius 214 and XM 209.
Bourdais now has sole possession of seventh place on the all-time list. He was previously tied with Dario Franchitti.PHOTO BY LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC
Qualifying Friday for the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix Verizon IndyCar Series race on the 1.022-mile ISM Raceway, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, and speed in mph:
1. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 188.539
2. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 188.148
3. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 186.852
4. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 186.824
5. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 185.741
6. (6) Robert Wickens, Honda, 185.362
7. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 185.279
8. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 184.706
9. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 184.595
10. (19) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 184.548
11. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, 184.313
12. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 183.920
13. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 182.960
14. (32) Kyle Kaiser, Chevrolet, 182.859
15. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 182.015
16. (4) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 181.817
17. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 181.804
18. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 181.244
19. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 180.932
20. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, 180.199
21. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 178.462
22. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 177.499
23. (26) Zach Veach, Honda, 175.733