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Penske’s Power To Start Gateway In Historic Position

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 26 2017

Will Power of Team Penske streaked to the pole – his 50th in Indy cars – Friday at the Gateway oval near St. Louis. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

The irony of his latest open-wheel accomplishment was not lost on Will Power, road-racing ace turned ovalmeister.

Power joined an elite list of “fitty-time” Indy car pole-winners Friday when he captured the Verizon P1 Award in record-setting fashion during qualifying around Gateway Motorsports Park’s recently repaved short oval. The Team Penske star turned two laps on the 1.25-mile layout in Madison, Ill., at an average speed of 189.642 mph under twilight conditions.

Power’s first lap of 23.7206-seconds/189.709 mph shattered the 20-year-old track record set by Brazilian Raul Boesel (24.324-seconds/187.963 mph) set during qualifying for the first Indy car race at the egg-shaped oval situated just across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis in 1997.

Power is poised to lead the Series’ field to the green flag for Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline.

With 50 poles in his 13-year Indy car career, Power now is tied with teammate Helio Castroneves for third on the all-time list. The Penske pair trail only legends Mario Andretti (67 poles) and A.J. Foyt Jr. (53) in Indy car history.

Fantastic.  Fifty poles. Wow. I never would have dreamed of that when I started,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “I’m very humbled to be up there with A.J. Foyt and Helio Castroneves.

“I love ovals! I love oval racing. It was something that took me time to learn, but once I learned it, it’s been good.”

Power’s pole figures compute to one in every four races, or 27 percent of his starts. Friday’s effort marked the fourth time Power has won at least six poles in a single season.

“Yeah, I think qualifying is something I really enjoy because it’s really the only time the whole weekend where you give absolutely everything, and racing in Europe, pace is everything,” said Power, a native of Australia. ”Obviously IndyCar is the same, especially on road and street courses. So driving for Penske definitely helps, and you know, they’re obviously giving you cars week-in and week-out to contend for the pole and race wins.”

Power, who won last week’s ABC Supply 500 at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway, led a Team Penske sweep of the first four grid spots. Championship leader Josef Newgarden was second in the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet at 188.316 mph. Newgarden held P1 until Power began his qualifying run as the last driver out.

“I knew it would be tough to keep Will out of that top spot,” said Newgarden, who equaled his season-best qualifying effort of second accomplished last month at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. “When you qualify on a short oval, it’s always the best to go last. You get the most rubber, you get the coolest track temp. So I’m hoping next year they (INDYCAR) change that rule where you sort of get rewarded for performance in the way you order. It’s even worse if you’re first to go out, then it’s really bad on a short oval, especially when you have other rubber that’s laid down.

“I knew he had a shot. I was hoping he wasn’t going to get it done but I knew he had a great shot to do it so I’m not surprised by that. Obviously we have a great team effort with Team Penske. It was quite a performance there, so we’re all trying to get the most out of it.

“Sure, I would like to have the pole position, but we’re right there. I think we’ll get there, so it’s nothing that’s super-disappointing or anything. We’ll start second and see what happens.”

Castroneves was third in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet at 187.457 mph while reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud placed fourth in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet at 186.747 mph.

With three races remaining in the 2017 season, Newgarden holds an 18-point lead over Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, a four-time series champion who qualified his No. 9 NTT Data Honda seventh at 183.848 mph. Castroneves trails Newgarden by 22 points, Pagenaud is 26 points back and Power, with the point earned for winning the pole, is 41 points behind the leader.

“We’ll start fourth, which is good, but I have my three Team Penske teammates in front of me, which will make it more difficult,” Pagenaud said. “And unfortunately, those aren’t the only cars to be concerned with. I think the race will be very competitive. Everyone will have to have complete focus and that’s not always the easiest thing. It’s not like Pocono, where there are some long straights to take a little break. Turning 24-second laps is pretty quick, but we’re definitely looking forward to going for a win like we had at Phoenix.”

The top 15 drivers in the standings remain mathematically eligible in the chase for the championship heading into the weekend.

“To be honest, all my teammates are strong,” said Castroneves, who is seeking his first series championship in what could be his final INDYCAR season. “There is a reason why they are battling for the championship. We always race hard. There was no…the only team order we have, it’s not to take each other out. And at this point, Will proved himself winning last week in Pocono so he does really well in ovals. Simon won in Phoenix, which is a short oval. I won in Iowa, and Newgarden already won in Iowa _ maybe not an oval this year, but it shows that everyone has a pedigree. Everyone has been there.

It’s hard to pick one guy. I would say me because I believe in myself. I know what I can do. I believe in my team, as well, so I will do everything I can to show those guys, ‘Hey, back off!’^”

Power noted that he and Castroneves have been keeping tabs on their pole prowess. “Yeah, we talked about it a couple times during this year,” said Power, who has scored 44 of his poles with Roger Penske’s juggernaut. “I mean, he was keeping it quiet. We were both aware, watching each other go up and down. But Helio has just been nailing it the last couple of years. So yeah, we’re equal.”

Power now has won six or more poles in four seasons _ eight each in 2010 and ’11, six in 2015. Team Penske, meanwhile, has won 10 of 15 poles this season and has 255 poles in its storied Indy car history. Power’s previous poles this season were recorded at St. Petersburg, Fla.; Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.; the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Iowa Speedway in Newton and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.

Team owner/driver Ed Carpenter was the top non-Penske qualifier, ranking fifth in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing at 184.528 mph _ a massive 5.114 mph slower than Power.

“We’re all still learning about this track,” said Carpenter, almost in self-defense. “The first practice, that’s all we were doing, just trimming and trimming, trying to go quicker. We missed on the gears in practice too, so we knew there was time left in the car coming into qualifying. Team Penske was just a little more aggressive than us when it came down to qualifying.”

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato was sixth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda at 184.186 mph. “This is a high-commitment racetrack,” said Sato, who qualified on-pole last weekend in Pocono. “In terms of top speed here is a lot slower than at Pocono, of course, but in terms of commitment it really helps the driver at the same time. I think the track got better and better as the sun set, but I think we should be happy under the circumstances with sixth and being the top Honda.”

Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais made his return to competition following the May 20 crash in Indianapolis 500 qualifying that left the four-time Champ Car champion with factures to his right hip and pelvis. Bourdais qualified 19th in the No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda.

“It was a disappointing qualifying run,” the native of Le Mans, France, said. “I knew coming in that it was going to be somewhat difficult. I don’t have the confidence and I didn’t get a good read on the qualifying trim in our simulation run in practice, so we stayed a bit careful with the balance of the car and I wasn’t aggressive enough with it. It’s a bit of a shame. The guys did a really good job and the car is actually pretty good in race trim, so we’ll see what we can do.”

A taped replay of qualifying will air at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday on NBC Sports Network. The 21-car field will return for a pit stop practice/competition at 8:15 p.m. Saturday that streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Indy cars raced at Gateway Motorsports Park annually from 1997-2003, but Saturday’s event marks the Verizon IndyCar Series’ first return since then. Live coverage of the 248-lapper will begin at 9 p.m. (EDT) on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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A new element of competition has been added to the race weekend during the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline Saturday, with the introduction of a pit stop competition at Gateway Motorsports Park.

To allow crews time to perform simulated pit stops under race-like conditions, INDYCAR added pit stop practice sessions to the weekend schedule. For the first time, however, a prize will be awarded to the crew that performs the fastest pit stop during the session set for 8:15 p.m. (EDT) Saturday _ just ahead of the 248-lap race around the 1.25-mile oval. The pit stop competition will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

“This will showcase the extraordinary work INDYCAR teams do on pit road,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “It should be an exciting competition for the fans at Gateway Motorsports Park to watch during the 90 minutes leading up to Bommarito Automotive Group 500.”

As with previous pit stop practices, the field will be split into two groups based upon pit location. Each car is permitted to complete three “out and in” laps _ leaving the pits, going around the track and then re-entering the pit lane without crossing the start/finish line on track. Crews can make a four-tire change of Firestone Firehawk rubber each time the car reaches its pit box.

The winning crew, determined by the fastest car time clocked from pit-in to pit-out and including the four-tire change, will receive a trophy and be recognized in pre-race ceremonies.

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Qualifying results Friday for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis/engine, and speed:

  1. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 189.642    
    2. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 188.316    
    3. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 187.457    
    4. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 186.747    
    5. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 184.528    
    6. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 184.186    
    7. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 183.848    
    8. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 183.620    
    9. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 183.578    
    10. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 183.528    
    11. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 183.283    
    12. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 182.900    
    13. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 182.830    
    14. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 182.529    
    15. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 182.499    
    16. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 182.271    
    17. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 182.195    
    18. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 182.137    
    19. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 181.846    
    20. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 181.191    
    21. (7) Sebastian Saavedra, Honda, 177.700    
| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 26 2017
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