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Power Leads Penske Qualifying Assault At Barber

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 23 2017

Will Power drove to the pole at Barber Motorsports Park on Saturday and will start Sunday’s IndyCar Series race P1.

Team Penske’s Will Power definitely is in his wheelhouse at Barber Motorsports Park.

Power toured the 2.3-mile/17-turn permanent road-course in 1-minute, 6.9614-seconds and 123.653 mph during the Firestone Fast Six, Saturday’s climactic round of knockout qualifying. That lap earned the 36-year-old Australian the Verizon P1 Award and his fourth pole position at the track in Birmingham, Ala., for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Power, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet, edged a pair of teammates and past Barber pole-winners for qualifying honors. Helio Castroneves was second in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:07.1429-seconds and 123.319 mph. Reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud qualified third in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:07.3817-seconds and 122.882 mph.

“Congratulation to Will,” said Pagenaud, the defending Barber race-winner. “That was great qualifying and phenomenal for the race team: 1-2-3.”

Power’s 46th career pole _ fifth all-time _ was the seventh for Team Penske in eight events at Barber. It also was the 248th in Indy car history for Roger Penske’s team, which Power said is where it all starts.

“First, it’s having a very good team and car, definitely working well this weekend,” said Power, the 2014 series champion who has Barber race wins in 2011 and ’12. “Kind of focusing very well and making sure I’m looking at the right things. Felt like I had a much better car on used (Firestone) tires; I think that’s kind of where we’ve been going wrong. Yeah, just a very good result.”

Four-time series champion Scott Dixon qualified fourth in the No. 9 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing at 1:07.5817-seconds and 122.518 mph. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and only non-Penske driver to win a pole at Barber, was fifth in the No. 28 Honda for Andretti Autosport at 1:07.6851-seconds and 122.331 mph.

“This weekend, we struggled with just keeping up with the car,” said Dixon, a six-time podium finisher at Barber but never a race-winner at the track. “It’s been tough in the conditions out here, but I think that was kind of the best we could hope for in qualifying. Pretty happy with that. Penskes have been strong all weekend and I think we’re in a good starting position.”

James Hinchcliffe, winner of the most recent IndyCar Series race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, qualified sixth in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at 1:07.8710-seconds and 121.996 mph.

Championship leader Sebastien Bourdais qualified 12th in the No. 18  Honda, one position behind his Dale Coyne Racing teammate, rookie Ed Jones.

“We made some major changes to the car but they didn’t work,” said Bourdais, a four-time Champ Car champion. “There’s something missing and we’re just not quite understanding what it is. Quite truthfully to make it into the Fast 12 was a big surprise with the understeer we had. Using another set of (Firestone alternate) reds didn’t feel like the right thing to do to maybe get a better lap time, so we kept a new set for tomorrow and used the same reds we ran in Round 1. We figured it was best to swallow the pill today and hope for a better day tomorrow with two brand new sets of Firestone reds.

“We’re scratching our heads but we’ll keep working and see what we can do. As I’ve said before, some weekends we’ll get it and some weekends we won’t, but we’ll keep on trying and not give up.”

Jones, driver of the No. 19 Honda, posted his best qualifying effort in his three series races to-date.

“It was a really good day,” Jones said. “We started off Practice 3 this morning with some changes to the car and I made improvements in myself as well. The team and myself came together and we produced a really good car. We were 12th in practice this morning, which was so much better than yesterday. We made a little bit more of jump again this afternoon for qualifying and got through to the Fast 12, which was our qualifying target this weekend, and we’ve accomplished that. I look forward to the race and hopefully we can get another top-10 finish.”

Meanwhile, Graham Rahal’s bid for a third consecutive podium finish will be launched from the 21st and last grid spot after struggling through a lap in 1:08.0499-seconds at 121.675 mph.

“We’re all sliding around, it’s just the level at which you are doing that,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.  “We can’t seem to get the tire to bite the road at all.  I had nothing else for qualifying. This morning I put in one miracle lap but couldn’t get within half of a second of it again. That’s what we have been banking on in qualifying. It got us through once in St. Pete and got us into the Fast Six in Long Beach but we weren’t able to do that today.

“We have to unload competitive right away because we don’t have a second car to split the workload and try different setups, spring rates or anything. For us as a single-car team it’s impossible to catch up over a race weekend. We’ve always been good here; we want to win races and get the PennGrade car in Victory Lane.”

A final 30-minute warmup practice is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. (EDT) Sunday (streamed on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). Live coverage of the 90-lap race starts at 3 p.m. on NBC Sports Network and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Nico Jamin became the third winner in as many Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races this season, claiming the opener of the series’ weekend doubleheader at Barber Motorsports Park. The Andretti Autosport driver made an early pass for the lead and drove away to a 2.6525-second win over Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing.

Sunday’s race will be the 400th in the history of Indy Lights, top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires development ladder.

In the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, the entry level for Mazda Road to Indy, Oliver Askew of Cape Motorsports made it a weekend sweep by winning Saturday’s second race. For the second straight day, Team Pelfrey’s Kaylen Frederick finished second. Askew has won three of the first four USF2000 races this season.  

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Qualifying results Saturday for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.3-mile/17-turn Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

  1. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:06.9614 (123.653)
    2. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:07.1429 (123.319)
    3. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:07.3817 (122.882)
    4. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:07.5817 (122.518)
    5. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:07.6851 (122.331)
    6. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:07.8710 (121.996)
    7. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:07.5941 (122.496)
    8. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 01:07.9467 (121.860)
    9. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:07.9788 (121.803)
    10. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:08.0305 (121.710)
    11. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:08.2034 (121.402)
    12. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:08.2726 (121.279)
    13. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:07.5405 (122.593)
    14. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:07.6928 (122.317)
    15. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:07.7033 (122.298)
    16. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:07.7007 (122.303)
    17. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:07.9211 (121.906)
    18. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:07.7483 (122.217)
    19. (21) Zach Veach, Chevrolet, 01:08.4681 (120.932)
    20. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:08.0104 (121.746)
    21. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:08.0499 (121.675)
| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 23 2017
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