FONTANA, Calif. – For 14 years, Kika Garcie-Consheso has been toting the Brazilian flag signed by Helio Castroneves after his first Indy car victory on June 18, 2000, at Detroit, waiting for a complementary signature after claiming his first series championship.
Castroneves, who has been the Verizon IndyCar Series runner-up three times, would be more than pleased to fill the blank space on the green, yellow and blue flag of his homeland Aug. 30 following the championship-deciding MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway.
Castroneves, who enters the 250-lap race 50 points behind championship front-runner and teammate Will Power, got off to a fast start by earning the Verizon P1 Award and its corresponding bonus point with a two-lap average speed of 218.540 mph in the No. 3 AAA Southern California Team Penske car on the 2-mile oval.
The pole was his third of the season, third at Auto Club Speedway since 2003 and the 41st of his Indy car career to break a tie with Rick Mears for fourth all time.
Raising the Brazilian flag behind his shoulders in Victory Circle and then autographing it for Garcie-Concheso, his longtime friend who is a consultant for INDYCAR partner Apex-Brazil, is his longtime goal.
“It ain’t over; it’s just beginning,” said Castroneves of the championship race. “Our job is to be aggressive over the 500 miles and finish where we started.”
Power, driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, qualified a season-low 21st with a two-lap average of 212.604 mph. Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, the third driver eligible for the championship, qualified 13th at 215.752 mph.
“With the starting position, I’d rather start at the very front or the very back to stay out of trouble early on,” Power said. “It’s obviously all about the race; it’s very long and we’ll be racing in different conditions.”
Power earned the pole for the October 2013 race at Auto Club Speedway with an average speed of 220.775 mph — a two-lap track record — and went on to win for the first time on a superspeedway.
Team owner Roger Penske is aiming for his 13th Indy car championship since 1977 with Tom Sneva and the first since 2006 with Sam Hornish Jr.
“I always tell our guys if one driver wins the team wins,” Penske said. “We got here because it was a team effort.”
Juan Pablo Montoya recorded a two-lap average of 217.621 mph in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske car to qualifying second. Josef Newgarden, driving the No. 67 Hartman Oil Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing car, also qualified on the front row (217.600 mph) for the three-wide start.