Power Sails To Sonoma Pole
SONOMA, Calif. – In a tight four-driver battle for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series title every point counts with just three races remaining in the season.
That is why Will Power’s pole on Saturday was another step in his quest to score his first-ever series championship.
Power scored his fourth pole of 2012 and his third-straight pole at Sonoma Raceway. The 28th pole of his career was also important because he gets one more point added to his championship total.
Power enters Sunday’s GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma with a six-point lead over Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay. Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves qualified fourth but is now 27 points behind Power with Target/Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon starting fifth but is fourth in points 29 behind Power.
Power easily claimed the pole through the Firestone “Fast Six” when he drove his Dallara/Chevrolet around the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course in 1:17.270 for a speed of 111.116 miles per hour. Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe, a fellow Australian, was second at 1:17.434 (110.881 mph) in another Dallara/Chevrolet.
“It’s good to be back on the pole here in Sonoma and it’s important to start up front here and we are very happy to once again be on the front row, which is where we want to start,” said Power, the IndyCar star from Australia who is going for his third-straight Sonoma victory. “This track was great for the team and I would love to make it three in a row here. This whole team has worked hard all year and we’ll just continue to push to win the championship.
“I don’t want to let anybody by us tomorrow.”
Three of the top four drivers in the championship race were involved in the Fast Six. Hunter-Reay was the lone driver in the top four that missed the final qualifying round and will start seventh after a lap time of 1:18.335 (109.605 mph) in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
Too much fuel with too little time may have been the difference for the driver from the United States.
“Two of our wins came when we qualified seventh so we know we can do it from there, but it’s still frustrating to miss the Fast Six,” Hunter-Reay said. “We had five laps of fuel in the car but we had trouble with the start on pit lane we that meant we only had time for four laps in that session. We missed sixth by a few hundredths of a second so that fuel level would have made the difference in the lap time.
“Historically this has not been one of our best tracks and considering how we struggled yesterday we should be bummed by seventh.”
Briscoe’s front row start is the fifth straight time he has started in the top five at Sonoma. Briscoe won his first career IndyCar pole here in 2005.
“We definitely unloaded strong, the car has been good since practice yesterday and you just sort of adjust for the win really because it has the biggest impact on the balance around this place and it’s pretty tough,” Briscoe explained. “It was solid. I didn’t get quite enough out of the first lap in Q3. It’s tough when you are on used tires to know exactly where the grip is going to be so I was able to push a little bit harder on the second lap and repeat the time again because the tires were still old.”
It became fairly obvious that before the “Fast Six” it was going to be a battle between the two Penske teammates to determine the pole.
“I had a feeling between Briscoe and myself, it was going to be a good battle,” Power admitted. “He was really quick. But ultimately he was if he hadn’t made that mistake on the last corner he probably would have been on pole.
“But I think it’s been a good track for us. Ultimately, I would say, it’s been a good track for Penske. I think that we have consistent cars here, and I can see the race is going to be pretty wide open with the way the windows work out, extending the race by ten laps. So there will probably be more passing, too. So expect a lot of action — hopefully not with me.”
Sebastien Bourdais of France was third in a Dallara/Chevrolet for Dragon Racing at 1:17.749 (110.431 mph) for his best start of 2012. He is followed by Helio Castroneves of Team Penske at 1:18.109 (109.923 mph) in another Dallara/Chevrolet.
“This place is awesome,” Castroneves said. “This up and down elevation is really fun. Certainly Team Penske knows the way around here. I think in the past, with three cars, we really trained a lot. Yesterday unfortunately we found something in the car that was really different, and I felt we did not have the performance that we had in the test a week ago. And today was just continuing a little bit of that. But I’m happy. The conditions, the way the car, my car was running, my Penske Truck Rental car was running, it was a little bit uneasy. Especially through the crest of the hills, it was very, very difficult. So fourth actually I felt really good. We think we can win the race from there. And we just got to keep consistent out there when we go in tomorrow for the race.”
Dixon has the most ground to make up out of the top four in the points race but is confident his Dallara/Honda is capable of advancing through the field from fifth place after qualifying at 1:18.2126 (109.778 mph) for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing.
He had to overcome some windy conditions that made part of his qualification session treacherous.
“I think I was following (Mike) Conway and in every corner in front of me he was running off the track and putting dirt everywhere,” Dixon said. “That was a little frustrating. And I don’t know, today, it seems like in the mornings the wind direction is the opposite way to how it was for qualifying our car. Balance is pretty decent. We can run fairly quick.
“But as the conditions changed and we struggled a little bit more, I don’t know, we’re kind of dumbfounded a little bit. We’re just missing a little bit in just about every corner there’s a couple of areas that are a little larger than others. But the cars balance well. We just don’t seem to have the grip of the speed that we need to right at the moment. A little bit of work to do. But race conditions I think will be good.”
Four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti rounded out the “Fast Six” at 1:18.3462 (109.591 mph) in a Dallara/Honda.
For Castroneves and Dixon, the good news is they will start near the man they are chasing for the championship. But the bad news is Power’s pole gave him one more point in a title race where every point counts.
“It’s really important,” Castroneves admitted. “Tomorrow is going to be extending the race (by an extra 10 laps over the past) and that might have a different strategy. So people from the back might end up benefitting them. But I feel especially on this stage we want to be close to those guys and that’s what we need to do tomorrow.”
Dixon isn’t as concerned about Power gaining an extra point for winning the pole as he was when he was erroneously penalized for jumping a restart while running third and ultimately finished 11th earlier this year at Milwaukee.
“It is a point but I think there’s plenty of times when you can look back after a championship run of where you lost points and where you should have been more consistent and things like that,” Dixon said. “But if it comes down to that, I wouldn’t place it or misplace for being the deciding factor.
“More than likely place it on Milwaukee.”