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Power Tops IndyCar Qualifying

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 27 2010

Will Power on the pole in St. Pete. (IndyCar photo)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Will Power of Team Penske continued his out-of-the-box domination of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Saturday afternoon, winning the pole for today’s sixth annual Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in record-setting fashion.

Power, winner of the season-opener two weeks ago on another temporary circuit in Sao Paulo, Brazil, toured the 1.8-mile, 14-turn Florida street layout in 1 minute, 1.6026-seconds and 105.190 mph. That lap broke the previous track record of 1:01.6839/105.052 mph set by Penske teammate Helio Castroneves in 2007.

Power, hired by team-owner Roger Penske last year as a super-sub for the legally embattled Castroneves, topped every practice session time chart this weekend en route to the third PEAK Pole Award of his IndyCar career. The 100-lap race, scheduled to start at 3:45 p.m. (ET) today, will be broadcast live on ABC at 3:30 p.m. and also carried by the IMS Radio Network.

“It’s a good weekend so far for Verizon Team Penske,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Dallara/Honda. “We’re still at the front, and so I’m very happy. It’s been a process. We’ve been working away at it and go through each session and look after our reds (soft-compound Firestone tires). I came away with pole. We would have been disappointed if we didn’t, given our pace this weekend.”

Power previously qualified on-point at Long Beach, Calif., and Edmonton in 2009, winning the Canadian event and finishing second at Long Beach. The pole was the 48th for Team Penske, extending its series record. Castroneves, a two-time St. Pete winner, qualified first and won this race in 2007.

Joining Power in the two-car front row is Tony Kanaan of Andretti Autosport following a lap at 1:01.8797/104.719 mph. “It’s only a perfect lap when you put it on the pole, but that was a perfect lap for that car,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda. “It feels good. I haven’t started in a while, actually, on the front row.” Kanaan’s previous front-row start was at this event in 2008, when he qualified on-pole and finished third. That was 19 races ago.

“I think we did a great job,” said Kanaan, who never qualified or finished higher than third in 2009. “We took a gamble on the tires. We went out on the blacks in the Fast Six, and it paid off. I knew qualifying was going to be tough, but I have to thank (team-owner) Michael Andretti and (race engineer) Pete Gibbons because we made the right calls and made the right changes.

“It’s nice to have Michael there because I was keen to start on the reds, and he said, ‘No, no, going to the blacks.’ And we can’t say no to the boss. So I said, ‘All right, the blacks.’ It’s a whole different atmosphere on the No. 11 team right now. I am enjoying it.”

Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing was third after a lap at 104.378 mph. Dixon, who logged his series-record 34th consecutive top-10 start, will be joined in Row 2 by Justin Wilson at 104.181 mph.

“I think the team did a good job,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Dallara/Honda. “We had a seventh-place car and worked on it and got better. I like to think I generally race better than qualifying, because qualifying has been pretty bad the last few years on street courses. Looking forward to the race. I think weather is going to be an issue, too, might stir it up a little bit like Brazil. It should be a fun race.”

Wilson, who finished third here last year for Dale Coyne Racing, acknowledged that tire selection also played a huge role in his qualifying debut for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

“The car was really good,”  said Wilson, driver of the No. 22 Z-Line Designs Dallara/Honda. “We were being a bit too hard on our red options, so decided to go in the blacks and thought it was good. Came out ninth, went down to 10:10 on my second lap and the brake pedal went all the way down to the bulkhead. I just didn’t have enough brakes there. It just got worse and worse as the run went on. Every trip around was an adventure and in the end, I decided to come in and park the car.

“I couldn’t get the job done. Best to not put it in the wall trying to find one position on the grid. So I’m pretty happy with the way things are going. The whole team at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing is improving.”

Castroneves, who missed this event last year because of legal issues, will start fifth after posting a speed of 104.160 mph. “It’s nice to be back on a groove,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda. “My plan here with Mr. Power _ he has too much power. Certainly he’s done a great job. We just want him to obviously continue doing well, but we can’t let him get too many points. Otherwise, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Castroneves, who also won here in 2006, will start alongside Marco Andretti after a lap of 103.936 mph in his Andretti Autosport entry. “Looking at our last couple of years, we’re pleased to be in the Fast Six,” said Andretti, driver of the No. 26 Team Venom Energy Dallara/Honda. “I think we kind of did the right thing the first two rounds, but we made a bit of a setup error in the Fast Six, so unfortunately, we weren’t able to have a go at the pole. But not a bad effort for the Venom crew.

“The good thing is I think Andretti Autosport cars are starting to show some pace. We’ve been working really hard in the offseason on it, so hats off to everyone.”

Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished second to Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe in the ‘09 race, missed advancing to the Firestone Fast Six by 0.0014-seconds and will start seventh in the No. 37 IZOD entry. He will be joined in Row 4 by FAZZT Race Team driver Alex Tagliani. KV Racing Technology’s E.J. Viso and Mike Conway of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing round out the top 10 in the 24-car field.

Meanwhile, led by two-time and reigning series champion Darion Franchitti, a number of prominent drivers wound up on the back half of the grid. Franchitti will start his landmark 200th IndyCar race with mixed emotions. The Scotsman failed to qualify for the Firestone Fast Six for the first time since the program’s inception in 2007, when he was knocked out in the first round.

Franchitti, driver here of the No. 10 Cottonelle Dallara/Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing, started from the pole at the season-opener March 14 in Brazil. Franchitti, who spent the 2008 season competing in NASCAR, was the only driver to participate in all seven Firestone Fast Six sessions in ‘09. He is gridded 13th, his lowest road/street-course starting position since 21st in 2005 at Infineon Raceway.

“We had a good run, and the car didn’t slow down at all,” Franchitti said. “Briscoe had some problems of his own, and I caught him in Turn 8 and got held up. That was unfortunate. The guys made some great changes to the car, and we were pretty quick after the crash in practice (Friday).”

Briscoe, who qualified sixth here en route to victory in 2009, will start 19th after a top lap of 103.979 mph. It’s Briscoe’s lowest starting spot on an IndyCar road/street-course. “We were the first car to go out on red tires and then we went to blacks, and it was really just bad timing,” said Briscoe, driver of the No. 6 Dallara/Honda. “The track got quite a bit quicker, and we needed to be on reds at the end of the session.

“It’s a bit disappointing as the Team Penske car has been fast all weekend and we have a good car for the race, but we’re going to be starting from farther back than we should be. We’ll be all right. I have a great crew and the best race strategist there is (Penske). We just have to avoid any first-lap accidents, and we should be able to have a solid race.”

Graham Rahal, making his debut for Sarah Fisher Racing in the No. 67 Dollar General entry, will start 16th after a frustrating qualifying session that produced a top lap of 103.673 mph _ and questions about what can be done to improve the car.

“We’re going to bounce ideas off each other,” said Rahal, who won this race in 2008 and qualified on-pole in ‘09. “I’ve tried to give all the ideas of all the things I remember from years past, and nothing is working. The car reacts so little to every change we make. I’ve run out of ideas. The problem is there’s no grip for me. No matter how hard I push, it’s not there. We’ll just try to keep working. We’re not going to give up. You never know what can happen. But there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Also, Danica Patrick remained mired among the bottom four, qualifying 21st after lap at 103.696 mph. Patrick started 15th and finished 19th in this event last year after contact with rookie Raphael Matos and Mario Moraes 31-laps into the event. “It’s really amazing how close the starting grid is,” said Patrick, driver of the No. 7 Team GoDaddy.com entry fielded by Andretti Autosport. “My lap time (1:02.4904) isn’t too far off, but I’m starting in the back of the field.”

The speed differential from the sharp end of the grid to the bottom is significant and should become obvious early in the form of lapped traffic. Power’s pole-winning speed of 105.190 mph is a full 10.599 mph faster than Milka Duno’s 94.591 mph lap in 24th.

In Firestone Indy Lights qualifying, James Hinchcliffe earned his first career series pole at 1:06.3497/ 97.664 mph. Rookie J.K. Vernay will join him in the front row after a lap at 1:06.4814/97.471 mph. The 45-lap Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for Firestone Indy Lights starts at 12:45 p.m. today.

1.  (12) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 1:01.6026 (105.190)

2.  (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 1:01.8797 (104.719)

3.  (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.0820 (104.378)

4.  (22) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.1992 (104.181)

5.  (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.2118 (104.160)

6.  (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.3461 (103.936)

7.  (37) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 1:01.8979 (104.689)

8.  (77) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 1:01.9692 (104.568)

9.  (8) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 1:01.9807 (104.549)

10.  (24) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.0434 (104.443)

11.  (5) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.4205 (103.812)

12.  (06) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.5113 (103.661)

13.  (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.1944 (104.189)

14.  (78) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.4493 (103.764)

15.  (4) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.2557 (104.087)

16.  (67) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.5044 (103.673)

17.  (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.2688 (104.065)

18.  (34) Mario Romancini, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.7366 (103.289)

19.  (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.3205 (103.979)

20.  (32) Mario Moraes, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.8294 (103.136)

21.  (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 1:02.4904 (103.696)

22.  (19) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 1:03.4793 (102.081)

23.  (2) Raphael Matos, Dallara-Honda, 1:03.0144 (102.834)

24.  (18) Milka Duno, Dallara-Honda, 1:08.5058 (94.591)

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 27 2010
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