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Power Joins Mario Atop Field-Toppers List

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 11 2022

Mario Andretti welcomes Will Power to the top of the IndyCar Series pole-sitters list. Power will lead the field to green in today’s championship-deciding, season-ending race at Laguna Seca. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Team Penske’s Will Power took an historic first step toward his second INDYCAR championship Saturday afternoon, breaking open-wheel icon Mario Andretti’s all-time record with his 68th career pole during qualifying for today’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Power, 41, from Toowomba, Australia, drove to his series-leading fifth NTT P1 Award, placing him in perfect position as NTT IndyCar Series championship point-leader entering the 2022 season-finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Northern California.

Power must finish third or better to celebrate his second series championship.

“It’s such a big day (Sunday) that I can’t celebrate much because I’ve got to be so focused,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. “Tremendous milestone. To be out there with an iconic guy like Mario is amazing. When I think about the era he raced in, how dangerous it was and how much more of a risk it was, it just blows my mind I’m there with Mario.

“It’s great to have Mario here _ someone I respect tremendously and was a massive fan of growing up. I want to swap a helmet with him, put his in my collection if he would do it.”  

Indeed, Andretti was on the premises for Power’s historic moment, supporting son Michael as owner of Andretti Autosport. Mario graciously placed his stamp of approval on Power’s qualifying prowess.

“Awesome! I know how much I loved qualifying, and I can see he’s the same,” said Andretti, 82. “Trying to reach and trying to do the lap you know you cannot repeat. That’s what puts you on-pole. How badly do you want it? If I had the specific formula I’d bottle it and sell it.

“It (losing the record) was coming. It’s beautiful. It’s great for the series and the sport. Records are made to be broken, and it’s with a good man. Will Power throughout his career has been a really good qualifier. He deserves this. He’s worked for it and he’s the best when it comes to qualifying.”

Power’s hottest lap during the Firestone Fast Six was 1-minute, 11.6127-seconds/112.505 mph. Rookie Callum Ilott will join him on the front row for Sunday’s 95-lap/212.61-mile race (2:40 p.m. EDT, NBC; 3 p.m., Telemundo Deportes on Universo and INDYCAR Radio Network) after qualifying a career-best second at 1:11.6320-seconds/112.475 mph in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet.

The pole gave Power, the 2014 series champion, more than a slice of INDYCAR history. He also will be awarded one bonus point when the race starts. That marker could prove pivotal as Power looks to preserve his 20-point lead over Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing. Marcus Ericsson (minus-39 points) of CGR and Scott McLaughlin (minus-41) of Team Penske also are eligible to win the championship for the Astor Challenge Cup.

Power was the only member of the title-contending quintet to advance into the Firestone Fast Six, creating an even clearer path for his championship aspirations on the 2.238-mile/11-turn permanent road-course where passing is difficult due to challenging terrain and a low-grip, highly abrasive surface.

“We put ourselves in a great position to lead the first lap to get one point and hopefully lead the most laps to get more points,” Power said. “Our competitors have better tires but we have track-position for right now, so we’ll have a good think about it and see how we attack that one. But it’ll be a long day. I’ll do my best. “

Teammate McLaughlin was best of the rest among the contenders, qualifying eighth at 1:11.6916-seconds/112.381 mph in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet after going off-track in Turn 4 during the second round of time trials.

“Yeah, trying a bit hard,” said McLaughlin, winner of last Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland on the Portland International Raceway road-course in Oregon. “We missed the balance all weekend in the XPEL Chevy and unfortunately we made just a little mistake there. Just trying to find the limits and get confidence in this car. I’m really proud of the guys because we were nowhere in practice and they really shook this one down and gave us a great car.

“I think we have something to play with (Sunday). We have some tires up our sleeve and are in a decent starting spot.”

Ericsson qualified 10th after spinning in the famous “Corkscrew” turn complex during the second round, ending with a best lap of 1:12.1359-seconds/111.689 mph in the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

“It was a pretty messy session there, Q1 and Q2, to be honest,” said Ericcson, a native of Sweden and reigning champion of the Indianapolis 500. “Suddenly, we had just the one lap in Q1 but it was enough to advance. Unfortunately, on our Q2 lap, we were catching those cars on preparation laps, and it became difficult because you don’t know what they will do in front of you while you stay on your racing line.

“I think it’s going to be a bit of a strategy game (Sunday) with the tires and will be interesting to see how that plays out. We’re in this race, and I’m pretty confident about it. I think we can definitely have a good result from where we’re starting.”

Dixon and Newgarden each face a massive amount of work after neither advanced out of the first round. A six-time series champion, Dixon will start 13th after his best lap of 1:12.1722-seconds/111.633 mph in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Dixon, of New Zealand, and every other driver besides Newgarden in the first qualifying group of Round 1 were forced into a one-lap showdown for position when Newgarden triggered a red flag, lost his two quickest laps and chance to advance by clouting a curb in the “Corkscrew” and spinning off-course.

“We’re starting right in the middle there,” said Dixon, who is looking to tie open-wheel legend A.J. Foyt Jr.’s record of seven championships. “Strategy I think will be key. I think we’ve seen a lot of people go off-track and cautions could be coming. The start is always interesting here and then also with tire degradation, especially with the reds (Firestone’s alternate rubber), it’s definitely going to be a different race than last year. It’s never over until it’s over.”

The result of Newgarden’s aforementioned hiccup is the series champ in 2017 and 2019 will start 25th in the 26-car field.  “I just made a mistake, it’s a real shame,” said Newgarden, whose No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet led Friday’s opening practice. “I think we have the fastest car in the field right here, so, yeah, it’s a bummer. It’s a bummer for everybody. It’s not over but it’s not ideal, what just happened here. It is what it is.”

Among the other four drivers in the Firestone Fast Six, Alexander Rossi qualified third at 1:11.7698 in the No. 27 Honda, with teammate Romain Grosjean of France fourth at 1:11.7858 in the No. 28 Honda.

Spaniard Alex Palou, whose reign as series champion has one more day on the clock, qualified fifth at 1:12.1625 in the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Native Mexican Pato O’Ward rounded-out the Firestone Fast Six at 1:12.4542 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

Ilott emerged as the top rookie qualifier, although the Englishman has been eliminated from Rookie of the Year contention. The two drivers competing for that honor _ David Malukas and Christian Lundgaard _ qualified seventh and 16th, respectively. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Lundgaard leads Dale Coyne Racing with HMD’s Malukas by five points.

“This shows what we can do with what we have in a certain way,” said Lundgaard, a native of Denmark. “Our terms of development this year have been what we had to start with, and again, just fine-tuning it. Whether it’s me and the driving and the experience, we’ve just been chipping away and trying to do a good job with that. And yeah, it’s been tough, especially with no teammate to kind of have anything to use very well, learn from. To get to this stage and have a result like this, I think they’re all super-chuffed.

“At the end of the day even if it’s just one lap, it’s great to do it, finish it like this. I think it gives us so much more motivation in the offseason when they get some time to really digest everything and work on it.”

A 30-minute warmup session at noon (EDT) Sunday will precede the race, with live coverage on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Spanish-language telecast will be on Telemundo Deportes on Universo.

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Team Penske has reached a multi-year contract extension with Scott McLaughlin, the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, keeping the 29-year-old native of New Zealand with Roger Penske’s organization for an unspecified period.

McLaughlin scored his third INDYCAR win of the season last Sunday on the Portland International Raceway road-course in Oregon. He is fifth in the championship standings, 41 points behind series leader and teammate Will Power.

“Team Penske has been such a huge part of my career, helping me get to where I’m at today, so I’m excited to continue racing with Roger (Penske), Tim (Cindric) and the entire team well into the future,” McLaughlin said. “Getting a chance to move to the United States and chase my racing dream _ driving in INDYCAR _ is something that would not have been possible without Team Penske, so I’m forever grateful.

“I’ve had so many great moments with this team, from winning three Supercars Championships to winning the Bathurst 1000 to making my first INDYCAR start. Now we’re competing at a high level, winning races and poles and even competing for the series championship. I can’t wait to see what the future holds with Team Penske.”

McLaughlin first joined Team Penske in 2017, competing in the Australian V8 Supercars Championship, where he finished second in the standings while also scoring a series-high eight wins and a record 16 poles. In 2018, McLaughlin captured the first of his three consecutive Supercars Championships for DJR Team Penske. From 2018-2020, McLaughlin collected 40 wins (including a series-record 18 victories in 2019), 64 podiums and 43 poles. He also produced the first win for Team Penske in the prestigious Bathurst 1000, winning from the pole in 2019.

After the 2020 season, McLaughlin moved to the United States to join Team Penske’s championship IndyCar Series program. He became the first Team Penske driver to capture INDYCAR Rookie of the Year honors last year, posting his season-best finish of second at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth in his first oval race. 

McLaughlin opened the 2022 season by earning his first career INDYCAR pole, leading qualifying on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.  He completed a dominant opening weekend by producing his first INDYCAR win the following day, leading a race-high 49 laps in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. McLaughlin scored his second career victory in July at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and he won his second pole on the Streets of Nashville.

Following his pole and victory last weekend at Portland, McLaughlin has produced eight top-five and 11 top-10 finishes this season while leading 433 laps _ ranked second in the series behind teammate Josef Newgarden.

“Scott took a big gamble when he came to INDYCAR, as he knew he would be leaving a series where he could thrive for years to come,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said in a statement. “To see him have the success he has had so far has been really satisfying, as we were confident in his talent. We just didn’t know how long it would take for him to gain the confidence in himself.

“Scott has adjusted quickly and has already established himself as someone that can win at any track during one of the most competitive eras of INDYCAR racing.  He continues to be a great representative for our partners and he has connected well with race fans all over the world. We’re excited that he will continue to be part of the Team Penske legacy for years to come.”

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Saturday was a day of firsts for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship, as Linus Lundqvist clinched his first season championship and Sting Ray Robb cruised to his first career Indy Lights victory.

Lundqvist, 23, from Stockholm, Sweden, finished sixth in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry to win the drivers’ championship with one race to go. Lundqvist, who entered the race with a 103-point lead over Australian Matthew Brabham, only needed to start the 35-lapper to seal the first title for HMD Motorsports.

“I can’t really put it into words, to be honest,” Lundqvist said. “So many emotions, not just from this year but from everything leading up to this moment. The biggest win of my career, my life. Super- important. Hopefully we can make something happen for the future, but for right now, I’m just enjoying this.”

Robb, 21, from Payette, Idaho, earned his first career victory after starting on-pole in his 33rd Indy Lights race. His No. 2 Sekady car fielded by Andretti Autosport crossed the finish line 11.0674-seconds ahead of the No. 28 Road to Indy/Stellrecht car driven by teammate and rookie Christian Rasmussen. Fellow-rookie Hunter McElrea finished third in the No. 27 car to complete a podium sweep by Andretti Autosport for the third time this season.

“That was pretty stellar,” Robb said. “I don’t know how much better that could be. I can’t thank God enough. This was an amazing day. The team is just awesome.”

Robb left no doubt about his determination to win. He held off teammate Rasmussen in Turn 1 and steadily drove away to lead all 35 laps. Robb turned the quickest lap of the race, and his margin of victory was the largest of the season by nearly four seconds.

“I was just having fun out there,” Robb said. “I had the car that I could just stay out front and keep consistent. I had 130 seconds of push-to-pass at the end. They gave me a great car.” Robb jumped from fourth to second in the standings, 100 points behind champion Lundqvist.

Rookie Jacob Abel finished fourth in the No. 51 Abel Speedwagon entry, tying his career-best set last weekend in Portland. Benjamin Pedersen, who earned his first career Lights victory in Portland, rounded-out the top-five in the No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD car.

Second race of the doubleheader and final event of the season will start at 1 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, with live coverage on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Qualifying Saturday for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.238-mile/11-turn WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Northern California, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

  1. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:11.6127 (112.505)
    2. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 01:11.6320 (112.475)
    3. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:11.7698 (112.259)
    4. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:11.7858 (112.234)
    5. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:12.1625 (111.648)
    6. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:12.4542 (111.199)
    7. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 01:11.6295 (112.479)
    8. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:11.6916 (112.381)
    9. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:11.7285 (112.324)
    10. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:12.1359 (111.689)
    11. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 01:12.2808 (111.465)
    12. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 01:12.8856 (110.540)
    13. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:12.1722 (111.633)
    14. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:12.1442 (111.676)
    15. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:12.2661 (111.488)
    16. (30) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 01:12.2093 (111.576)
    17. (14) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 01:12.4299 (111.236)
    18. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:12.2720 (111.479)
    19. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:12.5970 (110.980)
    20. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 01:12.2996 (111.436)
    21. (45) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:12.8366 (110.615)
    22. (51) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:12.4489 (111.207)
    23. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 01:13.4172 (109.740)
    24. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 01:12.8001 (110.670)
    25. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, No Time (No Speed)
    26. (16) Simona De Silvestro, Chevrolet, 01:13.5181 (109.589)

NTT IndyCar Series point-standings (top-10) _ 1, Will Power, Team Penske, 523; 2, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 503; 3, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 503; 4, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 484; 5, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 482; 6, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 457; 7, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 456; 8, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 362; 9, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 361; 10, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, 360.

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).

 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 11 2022
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