Sebastien Bourdais Leads IndyCar Field for Saturday's Phoenix Grand Prix

Two Frenchmen along with a Honda and a Chevy lead the way at IndyCar's first oval race of the 2018 season.

Chris Owens

The IndyCar field heads to its second race of the 2018 season after a thrilling opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. The Phoenix Grand Prix also marks the first time the field of 23 drivers competes on an oval with the new 2018 IndyCar aero kit.

Speaking of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it was race-winner Sebastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing that managed to beat the Penske powerhouse to the pole position for Saturday's night-race. Bourdais averaged 188.539 miles per hour during his two-lap qualifying run, which netted him a total running time of 39.028 seconds.

"The guys did a really good job," said Bourdais. "Obviously, qualifying position is pretty big. I knew it was going to take a flat (Turn) 3 and 4. I wasn't quite sure about Turn 1 and 2 and how much I needed to dig. The car was really solid. As soon as that track temp cooled off, it just gives you all the grip you need to make it happen. It's high tension, high pressure. Really listening to the car and making sure you don't overdo it," he added.

Penske's powerhouse drivers will start right behind the Frenchman at the wheel of their Chevrolet-powered racers. Simon Pagenaud managed to squeeze the most out of the new aero kit and delivered an average speed of 188.148 miles per hour with a total running time of 39.109. Pagenaud's teammate Will Power will start behind them from the third spot on the grid after averaging 186.852 miles per hour and 39.380 seconds during Friday night's qualifying run.

"It was fun. What a phenomenal qualifying session for our team," said Pagenaud. "We were mid-pack, and I knew we would go faster at the end. Very cool that we have a French front row on an oval. It's rare. It's very cool for him, too. Well deserved. This morning was super tough. Very, very difficult, very greasy. I think the race is going to be quite similar to qualifying. The cars are fun to drive. So far I love it. Hopefully, we can bring another trophy."

Track conditions at ISM Raceway caught a fair share of veteran and rookie drivers off guard, with many of them fighting to come to terms with the track's surface, grip, and tire performance. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato will start on the 12th and 13th spots after struggling with grip and balance issues all weekend long. Despite their starting positions, Rahal believes that in a field that's separated by thousandths of a second, it's possible to still deliver on race day.

"We heard Takuma’s report that his car was extremely loose in qualifying so we adjusted ours," said Rahal. "And then mine in qualifying had a ton of understeer which, I think, limited us a fair bit. Twelfth isn’t great but if you look at it, if you gain a tenth and a half (of a second) you are four or five spots up, he added."

One driver who was more than thrilled with his first oval IndyCar experience was Pietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi. The rookie managed to secure the tenth spot on the grid for this weekend's race with an average speed of 184.548 miles per hour. "It was great. A top ten in my first IndyCar qualifying, I'm happy with that. The car felt really good," said Fittipaldi. The engineers did a great job giving me a good car."

1. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 188.539    
2. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 188.148    
3. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 186.852    
4. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 186.824    
5. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 185.741    
6. (6) Robert Wickens, Honda, 185.362    
7. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 185.279    
8. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 184.706    
9. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 184.595    
10. (19) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 184.548    
11. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, 184.313    
12. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 183.920    
13. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 182.960    
14. (32) Kyle Kaiser, Chevrolet, 182.859    
15. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 182.015    
16. (4) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 181.817    
17. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 181.804    
18. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 181.244    
19. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 180.932    
20. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, 180.199    
21. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 178.462    
22. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 177.499    
23. (26) Zach Veach, Honda, 175.733