Qualifying for the Iowa Corn Indy 250 took place under the sweltering summer sun with temperatures north of 90 degrees, but Simon Pagenaud kept a cool head to stay focused during his qualifying heat race and earn the 11th starting position.
Pagenaud qualified 17th in a single-lap qualifying session that kicked off the process of filling the starting grid for Sunday’s race at Iowa Speedway. The qualifying speeds set the starting grids for three heat races that would determine the final starting grid for the race, and Pagenaud started sixth in Heat Race 2.
After gaining four positions at the start of the heat race, Pagenaud climbed to second, which would have been good enough to transfer him out of Heat Race 2 and into the third and final qualifying race. He maintained second for most of the race, but eventually relinquished the transfer spot to driver Graham Rahal.
“That was a bold pass by Graham (Rahal),” Pagenaud said. “He didn’t give me any room and I had to go up in the gray area on the track. I guess I’ll have to give him the favor back sometime.”
Pagenaud’s finishing spot of third netted out to an 11th-place starting spot on Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 250 grid.
“The HP car is really good,” he said. “We had a little bit too much understeer at the end, which is why we lost some ground. I think we’re really close though with where we need to be with the car. We can run every lane, which is the most important thing here at Iowa Speedway.”
Pagenaud feels the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car is primed to navigate to the front of the pack on the 7/8-mile oval for race day.
“The HP car started 25th in this race last year and we ended fifth, so we’re already getting a better start than last year!” Pagenaud said.
Rookie Tristan Vautier qualified the No. 55 Coastal.com/Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car in ninth during the first qualifying session. He started second in Heat Race 2, and gained valuable experience running in traffic during race conditions before finishing sixth.
“We had a good qualifying run earlier today but we saw in the heat race that we’re lacking some speed in race conditions,” Vautier said. “I knew racing would be harder than qualifying here for me so I’ve got to learn as much as I can from the heat race to be prepared for tomorrow.”
Vautier will start the Iowa Corn Indy 250 from 15th.
The green flag drops at Iowa Speedway at 3:05 p.m. ET. Broadcast coverage of the event begins on ABC at 2:30 p.m. ET. For all of the latest team updates, follow @SPMIndyCar on Twitter.