Red-Hot Power On Barber Pole

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 10 2010

Will Power remained the hottest driver in IndyCar on Saturday as he won the pole for Sunday's race in Alabama. (Photo courtesy of Ron McQueeney/Indy Racing League)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Birmingham, Ala. – It was a crimson tide that took the front row for the first IndyCar race in Alabama.

Riding on the softer Firestones marked by a red sidewall, Will Power claimed the pole at the Barber Motorsports Park in pursuit of a third straight victory in as many tries this season. Next door will be red-headed Mike Conway, who also sported the red sidewalls, which means softer rubber, during the Firestone Fast Six qualifying session.

Power’s Penske Racing teammate Helio Castroneves was third. Like Conway, he was a little more than a half second behind the pole, but rode on the primary black tires of Firestone.

The track resembling a coiled snake has 17 turns over 2.3 miles, which puts a premium on track position due to relatively short braking zones for overtaking. But can Power last long enough on his softer Firestones to maintain the momentum built up from victories at Sao Paulo and St. Petersburg?

That remains a mystery, because the softer reds were not available at Barber during the IndyCar test in February. In a race where track position will be at a premium, the pit stop options are wide open, meaning lots of choices for the teams, all of which have three sets of the softer red option for the weekend. Almost all of the teams opted to start Sunday’s race on the softer alternate reds, but some saved their sets by not using them in qualifying.

“There’s some pretty big fuel windows,” said Power, “and I think we’ll see some (different) strategies. But I think track position is important.”

Power also had a half a second advantage over Conway, who posted his best career starting position in IndyCar for the Dreyer & Rheinbold Racing team. Marco Andretti was fourth for Andretti Autosport, the only driver from his team who made the final session, followed by Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Takuma Sato, the Japanese driver who made his first Fast Six session in his third IndyCar start for KV Racing Technology. Dixon’s teammate Dario Franchitt was the first driver outside the Fast Six.

Sato was another of those who opted for reds, using them in both of his final sessions. “This is the circuit where I drove an Indy car for the first time,” he said. “I was more comfortable here. We went with the black in Qualifying 1 and the reds in Qualifying 2 to be sure we made it and in Qualifying 3.”

It wasn’t just a matter of slapping on the softer compound and going faster, rather making adjustments to the conditions on a clear day when temperatures started in the 40’s before they began climbing during the mid-morning qualifying session.

“It’s certainly been going very well within the team,” said Power, who started on the black primary tire before quickly setting his pole-winning lap early in the final 10-minute session. “We went basically the same time on blacks and reds, then it got hotter,” he said.

The Australian whose two-race winning streak began after he returned from breaking his back in an accident at the Infineon Raceway last year, remains nonchalant about his hot streak, which now includes his fourth IndyCar pole and second straight. Including his six poles in Champ Car, that gives him 10 for his career in Indy car racing.

“Everything went well and every now and then you have a qualifying session like that,” he said of his half-second gap.

The best case scenario for Power will be to reach his first fuel stop without his tires going away and losing track position. But he also may need to have his final set of softer tires available for the last stint to fight for the lead.

“While all of the teams have experience here with the primary spec (tire),” said Al Speyer, the director of Firestone’s racing division, “no one has yet used the alternate specification we are bringing to this event. Look for the red-sidewall Firestone Firehawk race tires to add a variable that will hopefully lead to more passing on the track.”

Some of the teams will rely entirely on pit strategy. “Passing on this track is difficult,” said Dixon. “I think at the end of the race there will be some people out of sequence.”

As for passing itself, Castroneves said the road circuit has similarities to ovals due to relatively high speeds in the corners. “When you’re behind somebody here it’s kind of like an oval with the turbulence,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to hold on. It’s the same for everybody. I think you’ll see people trying different things.”

That could mean a high number of laps run behind the safety car, which would also jumble the strategy for the 25-car field. “You have to be careful,” said Castroneves, “not to take yourself and somebody else out.”

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

Qualifying Saturday for the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy Credit Union IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park, with starting position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1.  (12) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 01:10.1356 (118.057)

2.  (24) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 01:10.6501 (117.197)

3.  (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 01:10.6569 (117.186)

4.  (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.0701 (116.505)

5.  (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.3557 (116.038)

6.  (5) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.4387 (115.904)

7.  (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 01:10.6307 (117.229)

8.  (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 01:10.6903 (117.131)

9.  (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 01:10.7602 (117.015)

10.  (8) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 01:10.7757 (116.989)

11.  (22) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 01:10.7760 (116.989)

12.  (32) Mario Moraes, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.5219 (115.769)

13.  (78) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.0262 (116.577)

14.  (37) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 01:10.7449 (117.040)

15.  (67) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.1495 (116.375)

16.  (19) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 01:10.9524 (116.698)

17.  (06) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.2855 (116.153)

18.  (2) Raphael Matos, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.0507 (116.537)

19.  (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.5340 (115.749)

20.  (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.1348 (116.399)

21.  (77) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.5669 (115.696)

22.  (34) Mario Romancini, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.6020 (115.639)

23.  (4) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.6095 (115.627)

24.  (18) Milka Duno, Dallara-Honda, 01:15.1422 (110.191)

25.  (36) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara-Honda, 01:11.9800 (115.032)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 10 2010
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