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Helio holds off Hondas to win another pole at Long Beach

Associated Press logo Associated Press 9/04/2017 By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Helio Castroneves held off a Honda charge Saturday to win the pole at Long Beach for the third consecutive year.

The Team Penske driver held off five Hondas to secure the top starting spot Sunday on the temporary street course through Long Beach. He had the only Chevrolet in the final round of qualifying, and needed a track-record lap of 1 minute, 06.22 seconds to win the pole.

He nailed it after barely advancing into the final round.

"That's the testament of Team Penske," he said. "We were able to compose ourselves and see what we needed to do. All of a sudden the car came alive and the car was fantastic."

Penske drivers have won seven of the last nine poles at Long Beach, and Saturday's run was the 48th career pole for Castroneves. He's seeking his first IndyCar Series victory since 20014.

Scott Dixon qualified second for Chip Ganassi Racing and was followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, and James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports.

Alexander Rossi was fifth for Andretti, and Graham Rahal from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing rounded out the top six. Honda drivers took spots two through six in qualifying.

Two years ago, six Chevrolet drivers made the final round of qualifying, an embarrassment for Honda, which is headquartered in nearby Torrance.

"I remember crying myself to sleep here. Brutal," said Honda driver Hinchcliffe.

Five teams were represented in the final round of six, but there could have been a heavier Chevrolet presence if not for drama in the second round. Defending race winner Simon Pagenaud broke the track record with a fast lap of 1:06.5026, but was penalized for qualifying interference on teammate Castroneves in Turn 11.

The penalty cost Pagenaud his two fastest laps and removed him from the remainder of qualifying. The reigning IndyCar champion will start last in the 21-car field as he tries to defend last year's victory. He cast some of the blame for the incident on Penske teammate Will Power, who Pagenaud claimed had slowed on the track and forced him to slow.

"It starts with Power," he said. "On the first lap on reds he was really slow so I caught him and had to abort my lap. All three Penske cars were close, so I was boxed in. It's a real shame — the car was phenomenal. We had the car for pole, and Will started backing everybody up. I don't understand why the guy that's behind (received) the consequence for the problem. But it is what it is.

"In my head, there was no doubt we were going to contend for the pole position."

Castroneves said the incident was a "snowball" for the Penske trio.

"Will, like, wasn't going," Castroneves said. "Because I was the third car, so I was so far back, I was catching those guys. All of a sudden when he came to the hairpin, obviously Simon was also trying, I actually touched Simon's wheel ring on the hairpin."

Eleven of the 12 drivers in Segment 2 broke Castroneves' track record of 1:06.6294 set in 2015, and all 11 were separated by less than four-tenths of a second. Dixon led all with a fast lap of 1:06.2285.

Charlie Kimball qualified seventh after he was knocked out of qualifying by 0.008 seconds by Hunter-Reay. Josef Newgarden was eighth, ahead of Penske teammate Power, and Marco Andretti completed the top 10.

Castroneves, who is in his 20th season , joked that the younger drivers in IndyCar are pushing him and forcing him to up his game. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner turns 42 next month, and Roger Penske has said he'd like the Brazilian to be part of his sports car program along with Juan Pablo Montoya.

Montoya lost his fulltime ride in IndyCar with Penske when the team replaced him with Newgarden.

"It's those kids. They keep coming in trying to steal my thunder," Castroneves said. "This qualifying says something about this competition in the paddock, it is so incredible. It is a crucial time. Everyone is within hundredths of a second."

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More AP auto racing: racing.ap.org

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