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Pagenaud grabs pole for race 1 in Houston doubleheader

<p>Simon Pagenaud will start on the pole for the first race in the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend doubleheader after topping the charts in Saturday morning's qualifying.</p>

Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Simon Pagenaud will start on the pole for the first race in the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend doubleheader after topping the charts in Saturday morning's qualifying.

During the third and final qualifying round (the "Fast Six"), Pagenaud made a lap around this 1.683-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit at Houston's NRG Park in 59.3716 seconds for his first career pole in the IndyCar Series. The 30-year-old Frenchman is in his third season as driver of the No. 77 car for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports.

On Friday, Pagenaud posted the fastest lap overall in practice. He won the May 10 inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, held on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course.

"The car is awesome and has been all weekend," said Pagenaud, who scored his maiden pole in his 60th career IndyCar start. "It's going to be a long and physical race, but we'll be ready. Starting from pole during a standing start is important to avoid any problems."

It was also the first pole for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports since June 2011 when Alex Tagliani claimed the top starting position at Texas Motor Speedway.

Helio Castroneves will start alongside Pagenaud on the front row for Saturday afternoon's 90-lap, 153-mile race after making a lap in 59.4463 seconds. Scott Dixon, the defending IndyCar champion and winner of the first race in last year's doubleheader in Houston, qualified a season-best third. Luca Filippi, who is making his first start in the series this season, placed a career-best fourth. James Hinchcliffe took the fifth spot.

Takuma Sato, Justin Wilson, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais and rookie Mikhail Aleshin qualified sixth through 10th, respectively.

Will Power, the current points leader, struggled in qualifying with an 18th- place result. Power started 14th and finished second at Long Beach and then won the first race in the Detroit Belle Isle weekend doubleheader after starting 16th. He enters race 1 in Houston with a 39-point lead over Castroneves, his teammate at Team Penske.

Power also won race 2 in the 2013 doubleheader in Houston.

Pagenaud is presently fourth in the championship standings (-91).

"When you're positioned to win, you have to take advantage of the points and we're poised to do that," Pagenaud noted.

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