Simon Pagenaud will start from pole on Saturday night in IndyCar’s 500-mile race at Auto Club Speedway, where Australian Will Power has managed only eighth fastest in qualifying.
Pagenaud had a two-lap average of 218.952mph on the two-mile oval on Friday to earn his second career pole. He also topped qualifying in Houston in 2014.
Helio Castroneves was right behind him, giving Team Penske both spots on the front row.
“It’s awesome to get the opportunity to run up front on ovals,” Pagenaud said. “Team Penske and Chevy are giving me the opportunity to do so. The car feels great.
“In terms of performance, we’ve been so strong all season and my guys have not been rewarded yet. It’s good for them to get a red hat and enjoy it tonight, then get back to work tomorrow morning,” Pagenaud said.
“It’s very slippery when it’s hot, becoming very challenging,” said Castroneves, a three-time pole winner at Fontana. “Even when you have several lanes to go, the car just wants to go one way. And that’s the biggest one, trying to find your lines without having any huge moments.”
Marco Andretti was third, Ed Carpenter fourth and points leader Juan Pablo Montoya gave Team Penske five of the top six spots.
Penske’s Tony Kanaan, the winner at Fontana last year, qualified seventh and Power – second in points entering the race – was eighth.
That gives Penske a good shot to win at a track where it has struggled to take the flag; Power has the team’s only win at Fontana in 2013.
“As every year comes by, obviously there is some challenge,” Castroneves said of the track. “In this heat we’re going to face tomorrow and we faced today, we’re going to see some cars going forward and some cars backward.”
Team Penske has dominated the series this season, entering this weekend’s race with three of the top four drivers in points.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, third in the points, finished sixth.