Pa­ge­naud will be on pole at Fon­tana

IndyCar driver earns the top start at the MAVTV 500, which is no longer the sea­son fi­nale.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Alex Shultz alexan­der.shultz@latimes.com

Since his tran­si­tion to Team Penske in Septem­ber, Si­mon Pa­ge­naud has tried to keep ex­pec­ta­tions for his per­for­mance at a rea­son­able level.

But Fri­day af­ter­noon’s qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion for the MAVTV 500 at Fon­tana was per­haps the first time he ex­ceeded those ex­pec­ta­tions, as his two- lap av­er­age speed of 218.952 mph gave him pole po­si­tion for Satur­day’s race.

“I’m here for the long run,” said Pa­ge­naud, who is 10th in the IndyCar Cham­pi­onship stand­ings, the only Penske driver out­side the top five this sea­son. “I’m not just here for two races.… I don’t know many Penske driv­ers that have won right away. It’s just the way it is.”

Pa­ge­naud’s qual­i­fy­ing speed at Auto Club Speed­way ex­ceeded that of last year’s pole win­ner, He­lio Cas­tron­eves, who will start sec­ond this week­end with an av­er­age two- lap speed of 218.734 mph.

Fon­tana “is prob­a­bly the one track where I haven’t won that I would like to win more than any other,” Cas­tron­eves said. “This would be a great week­end for that. We are right there in the cham­pi­onship hunt and a win would go a long way to­ward mak­ing sure we are there for the last six races of the year.”

Marco An­dretti will start third, while Ed Car­pen­ter rounds out the sec­ond row.

“We have re­ally been strug­gling on the ovals so far this year, but I feel like Fon­tana is a great track to get things turned around,” Car­pen­ter said.

The MAVTV 500 is the 11th race on the IndyCar cir­cuit, a change from prior years when it served as the sea­son fi­nale.

“A lot of the driv­ers are go­ing to go for it,” Pa­ge­naud said. “I think it’s go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing race in that sense. It changes the dy­namic. Last year, there were only three driv­ers in the hunt. This year, there’s a lot more driv­ers still big on win­ning the cham­pi­onship.”

Another change is the time of day for the race. Pre­vi­ous MAVTV 500 events have been at night, but Satur­day’s race is in the af­ter­noon.

“Hope­fully, it won’t be too hot,” 2013 IndyCar cham­pion Scott Dixon said. “I think degra­da­tion and try­ing to main­tain pace is go­ing to be a tough sit­u­a­tion, es­pe­cially with the track be­ing so much hot­ter dur­ing the day.”

In­di­anapo­lis 500 win­ner Juan Pablo Montoya — the IndyCar points leader — will start fifth af­ter a two- lap av­er­age speed of 217.250 mph. He’s still in the run­ning for the Triple Crown, which would be awarded to a driver who wins all three 500- mile races in a sea­son.

“The Triple Crown is not some­thing that I re­ally fo­cus on, but it’s some­thing cool that the Ver­i­zon IndyCar Se- ries brought back a few years ago and we are proud to be com­pet­ing for it,” Montoya said. “Only one team is able to win the Triple Crown this year and it’s ours, so that is a cool feel­ing.”

Join­ing Montoya in Row 3 is Tony Kanaan, the 2014 win­ner of the MAVTV 500. Kanaan has en­joyed plenty of suc­cess in Fon­tana, grab­bing a podium spot in five of his last six races at the track.

“I’ve had some solid fin­ishes at Auto Club Speed­way, es­pe­cially last year with f in­ally get­ting a win on the oval,” Kanaan said. “I’m just a big fan of this track.”

Graham Ra­hal — cur­rently f ifth in the IndyCar stand­ings — strug­gled in qual­i­fy­ing com­pared to his peers in the top f ive, f inishing 19th. That’s where he ended up at the 2014 MAVTV 500, a po­si­tion he’s hop­ing to avoid this time around.

“I think this year, we’ve been bet­ter at putting our­selves up there in a place to suc­ceed at the end of the race, a place to f ight for podi­ums and vic­to­ries,” Ra­hal said. “Last year, we weren’t so good at that.”

The MAVTV 500 be­gins at 1: 30 p. m. Satur­day, with TV cov­er­age be­gin­ning at 1 on NBCSN.

Fred­er­ick M. Brown Getty I mages

SI­MON PA­GE­NAUD, 10th in the IndyCar Cham­pi­onship stand­ings, had best qual­i­fy­ing time Fri­day.

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