Pagenaud captures pole, Penske drivers go 1-2-3

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Team Penske sweeps the top three times with Simon Pagenaud laying down the fastest qualifying time of 1:14.9166 with Helio Castroneves just behind him at 1:14.9166 and Juan Pablo Montoya in third at 1:15.5659.

Detroit — Simon Pagenaud doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

In his second season with Team Penske, he has a IndyCar-series high three victories and leads the points race 292-235 over Scott Dixon.

On Friday during qualifying for today’s Belle Isle Grand Prix, Pagenaud won his third pole position in 1 minute, 14.916 seconds in a Chevrolet.

Today’s race — a 70-lap event on the 13-turn, 2.3-mile street course — is the first of two this weekend. Race No. 2 is Sunday.

Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves (1:14.928) and Juan Pablo Montoya (1:15.56) qualified second and third. James Hinchcliffe topped the Honda drivers and was fourth, followed by Carlos Munoz. Dixon rounded out the Firestone Fast Six.

Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, a 24-year-old American, struggled in his Belle Isle debut, qualifying 17th

for Andretti/Herta Autosport in a Honda.

“I knew the car would be good here because of the way it was at Long Beach,” Pagenaud said of his California victory. “It was great we could extract the lap time out of it.”

Qualifying opened with two groups of 11, with the top six in each session moving to Session No. 3, where the top six drivers would move on to the Firestone Fast Six. It was in Session No. 3 where Castroneves set the track record at 1:14.689.

“I was supposed to do that track record on the last one, not the first one,” Castroneves said. “It was in the wrong session, but it was so close. I wish they would have told me. Sometimes they (crew) talk to me a lot, sometimes they don’t say enough. I wish they would tell me ‘Just squeeze a bit more.’ Even if I would have finished with three wheels I would have gone for it.”

Drivers talked about how bumpy the track was, but Pagenaud and Castroneves had no problems. Montoya said there were a couple bumps that caught his attention.

After an hour of the 75-minute morning practice, action was red-flagged for debris when the grommet surfaced from between the concrete slabs. There were no further problems the rest of the day.

“I think there’s like three or four bumps they need to fix,” Montoya said. “Everything else is really good. I think the track has got a lot of character. One, two segments, the last two corners, there’s really good character that makes it really tough. Every corner the grip level changes so you’ve got to be on your toes all the time. You’ve got to brake over bumps. It makes it really interesting.”

Said Pagenaud: “We all know this place is bumpy and has a lot of character. I think it shows the best cars and also the best drivers.”

The track also tested the nerves of Andretti Autosport drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti.

Hunter-Reay had an animated talk with Andretti after Round 1, with owner Michael Andretti looking on.

When asked about the discussion with Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti got on his scooter and said, “my teammate ... me,” before driving away.

Hunter-Reay will start 15th, Andretti 19th.

But the Andretti Autosport driver who did have a strong day was Munoz, who returned to the site of his first career win.

Munoz won the rain-shortened first race last year, topping Andretti by nearly 30 seconds when the red flag came out after 46 of the scheduled 70 laps.

“Detroit was one of my first podiums in Indy Lights, finished second one year and then last year I had my first win in IndyCar with the rain and everything,” Munoz said. “They waved the red flag because of the conditions, but I was flying and in the rain and I knew I would have won if the race continued because I’m really good in rainy conditions.”

That could be a plus because rain is possible for Sunday’s race.

“The surface of the track all around is concrete, which means it will be slippery, less grip than the normal one, but it’s the same for everyone,” Munoz said. “There’s passing opportunities after the long straights so that’s good.”

Twitter: @davidgoricki