Helio Castroneves continues to break records and climb the all-time career lists, in this, his 20th year of Indy car racing. He tied the great Bobby Unser for 49 career pole positions tonight when he won the Verizon P1 Award at Phoenix International Raceway for the second year in a row. It’s also his second pole of the 2017 season, with number 48 coming on the Streets of Long Beach earlier this month.
The pole speed he ran tonight also annihilated the track record that he set in 2016 by more than 2 full seconds. And that’s during an aero kit development freeze… very impressive for anyone, but even moreso when a veteran driver can prove that they’ve still ‘got it’. Back in January, Castroneves mentioned that his doctor cleared him pre-season with a bill of health equal to that of a 19-year-old. He may be in a drought when it comes to victories, but his experience and that of his teammates are certainly a key benefit in successfully putting together that perfect lap for qualifying, consistently:
“To be honest, it’s not about the age, but it’s about having a great group of guys. We have a phenomenal group of talented drivers. I’m just honored to be part of this group. Day in, day out, they push me. I learn from them. That’s probably why we keep up there.
So now we have a great chance tomorrow. Car is really, really good. Obviously qualifying is one thing, race is another, but I’m really confident.”
The drivers that fell into line behind Castroneves in spots P2 through P5 were the same ones that shared the Top 5 slots with him earlier in the evening during practice, the only difference being the order. Power will start on the outside of Row 1, JR Hildebrand (ECR) and Josef Newgarden will man Row 2 and then Simon Pagenaud will share Row 3 with Tony Kanaan. Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 NTT Data machine for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams is the highest qualifying Honda in Phoenix.
“I’m happy with where we’re starting tomorrow. I have a strong track record here at Phoenix, so I definitely think we can get around those Chevys and win from sixth.”
Kanaan is celebrating his 20th year of Indy car racing, along with Castroneves. The Brazilians were recognized for their achievements in the series, the evening prior to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix race weekend. The evening at the Heard Museum was appropriately titled, “Celebrating Legends: 20 Years of Legendary Driving,” and included a roast element with story-telling from Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, and Paul Tracy.
Another commonality that Castroneves and Kanaan currently share is that their most recent wins were in 2014. Castroneves’ last time breathing in that high-altitude air from the top of the podium happened at Belle Isle in Detroit, MI and for Kanaan at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA.
Both drivers are in good positions to fight for a victory on Saturday evening in Phoenix, but as with any event in IndyCar, nothing worth having comes without effort. And while the rest of the field respects these two legendary racers, they have no intention of making things easy for them.
Photos by Chris Owens & Chris Jones / IndyCar
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