AVONDALE, Ariz. — Sebastien Bourdais took the IndyCar pole Friday night at ISM Raceway to join Simon Pagenaud in an all-French front row.
The last driver to qualify, Bourdais had a two-lap average of 188.539 mph on the 1.022-mile oval in Dale Coyne Racing's No. 18 car.
The 39-year-old Frenchman won his 34th career pole and first since fracturing his pelvis and right hip last year in a crash during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.
"Obviously, for me, every time I line up for qualifying, there are always some images that come back. You can't help it," Bourdais said. "So, to just kind of be able to put that on the side enough to hang it out to get that (pole) makes me feel pretty good about it."
Last month, Bourdais won the season-opening street race in St. Petersburg, Fla., for his 37th career victory. He won his first pole since Mid-Ohio in 2014 and the first on an oval since Milwaukee in 2006. The four-time series champion also gave Dale Coyne Racing its second pole and first since Mike Conway at Detroit in 2013.
"We're still a fairly small organization compared to the likes on the Ganassis and the Penskes," Bourdais said. "We got a great group of guys working real hard to make it happen. When you do, it's really sweet."
Pagenaud qualified second for tonight's race at 188.148, a year after racing to his first oval victory at the desert track.
"Pretty cool, a French front row on an oval," Pagenaud said.
The Team Penske driver topped the afternoon practice session in hotter, slicker and windier conditions.
"The conditions were very, very tough," Pagenaud said.
Penske's Will Power was third at 186.852, followed by Andretti Autosports' Alexander Rossi and Schmidt Peterson's Canadian duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens.
The 250-lap race is the first oval event for the sleek new car that is designed to improve competition, level the playing field and cut costs.
"There's a lot of unknowns," Hinchcliffe said. "First short oval for us, first oval race with the (new) kit. There's still a lot to be found out."
Pietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of two-time Formula One champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, qualified 10th for his IndyCar debut.
The 21-year-old Fittipaldi is making the first of seven starts this season for Dale Coyne Racing in the No. 19 Paysafe ride he's sharing with Zachary Claman De Melo.
The track is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Mario Andretti's 52nd and final Indy car victory.
In addition to the April 4, 1993, race, Andretti also won at the track in 1966, 1967, 1986 and 1988. At age 78, he still gets behind the wheel to help son Michael with Andretti Autosport.
"I'm up to speed on what's going on," Andretti said. "I have the appreciation of what the drivers are dealing with today. I know what's going on because I've done some high-speed testing for Michael that nobody knows about. I have an appreciation for what's going on today firsthand."
Grandson Marco Andretti's No. 98 Honda features a retro paint scheme inspired by the winning 1993 Newman/Haas car.
Team owner A.J. Foyt was at ISM Raceway three weeks after surviving a bee attack on his West Texas ranch.
"I'm still recovering," the 83-year-old racing great said.