By Michael Marot
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Simon Pagenaud keeps finding ways to stay ahead of the IndyCar pack.
On Friday, the French driver added another chapter to his early season dominance by claiming the pole for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis with a fast lap of 1 minute, 8.6868 seconds on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course. American Charlie Kimball will start a career-best second after going 1:08.9816.
Pagenaud has two straight pole wins and will try to reach victory lane for the third straight time Saturday.
“It’s pretty fun right now, let me tell you,” the Team Penske driver said after winning his fourth career pole. “Ben Bretzman, my engineer, gives me a monster car every time I’m out there.”
This time, he may not have much margin for error.
Kimball, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, was just a tick off Pagenaud’s pace. Another American, Graham Rahal, who drives for his father’s team, posted the best lap of any Honda driver at 1:09.1816.
Rahal was to start third — right next to another Honda driver, Canadian James Hinchcliffe, who will start a season-best fourth. Hinchcliffe drives for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
The cars of Rahal and Ed Carpenter were later found to be underweight, and so both drivers will start from the back of the field on Saturday.
Pagenaud, who already holds a 48-point lead over defending series champ Scott Dixon, isn’t ready to give up any ground. Instead, Pagenaud is looking to expand his lead by becoming the first two-time winner of Indy’s road race.
“You’re always trying to push the limits and finding that zone is key,” he said. “It’s a lot about concentration and having everything go right for you in your head.”
HARD CUT: It was a tough day for some of IndyCar’s big-name drivers. Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves of Brazil and American Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy winner, were eliminated in the first round of qualifying. Alex Tagliani, the 2011 Indy pole-winner; Marco Andretti, the 2006 Indy runner-up; and J.R. Hildebrand, the 2011 Indy runner-up, also were knocked out in the first round. Defending Indy GP winner Will Power and defending 500 champ Juan Pablo Montoya were eliminated in the second round.
BEING FLAGGED: Tagliani served one penalty in Friday’s morning practice, then picked up another for again ignoring the checkered flag. That forced the Canadian to sit in the pits for the first five minutes of qualifying and left him with the slowest lap in qualifying. Montoya ran into similar trouble. The Colombian was assessed a five-minute penalty in the second round of qualifying after taking an extra lap when the checkered waved to end the first round.
BROKEN RECORD: The two group leaders of the first round of qualifying, Jack Hawksworth of A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Power from Team Penske, set track records. When they did, track officials delivered a throwback moment when they played a tape of the late Tom Carnegie announcing “a new track record.” Power, the previous record-holder, took it away from England’s Hawksworth with a time of 1:08.6746.
HONDA GAP: Honda has three of the top six spots in Saturday’s 25-car field, as well as the final seven. In between are 12 Chevrolets and three more Hondas.