Will Power wins pole for inaugural Alabama Grand Prix
Let’s see, there was the IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test back in late February. Then there was practice on April 9 and the first two rounds of qualifications. Finally, the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car had the quickest lap time in the 10-minute Firestone Fast Six knockout session and Power claimed his second PEAK Performance Pole Award of the season.
That’s all great, but what matters most to the Aussie and his crew is taking the checkered flag in the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy Credit Union on April 11. It won’t be a Sunday afternoon walk through the picturesque venue, however, for Power, who recorded a quick lap of 1 minute, 10.1356 seconds on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn circuit.
Five teams were represented in the Firestone Fast Six, and the competition will attempt to press Power into an uncharacteristic mistake during the 90-lap race. He’ll also attempt to be the first in series history to win the first three races of the season (and tie Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon and Kenny Brack in winning three in a row overall).
“I think three wins a row is possible, but pretty tough to do,” said Power, who earned the fourth pole start of his IZOD IndyCar Series career. “I just have to keep executing in the races. If we can stay up front and win tomorrow that would be great, but if we aren’t in the position to do that I just can’t make mistakes.
“We knew we needed to qualify in the front because it is difficult to get past anyone. We are going to rely on strategy with the tires (using both the primary and softer alternate Firestone Firehawks).”
“I owe a big thank you to the team who has spent a lot of time getting the car ready for this weekend,” said Conway, who posted one top-five finish (third at Infineon) in his rookie season of ‘09. “They are doing a great job, but we still have some work to do tonight before the race.”
Power’s teammate, Helio Castroneves, will share Row 2 with Marco Andretti, who will make his second consecutive top-six start in the No. 26 Team Venom Energy car for Andretti Autosport. Castroneves, also was making his second consecutive Firestone Fast Six appearance, is three shy of 100 top-five starts in the series.
Scott Dixon, who extended his series record for top-10 starts to 35, will be on Row 3 in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car. He’ll be joined by rookie Takuma Sato, who earned his highest start of the season in the No. 5 Lotus-KV Racing Technology car.
Dario Franchitti, who missed out on reaching the Firestone Fast Six by less than a tenth of a second, will be on Row 4 in the No. 10 Suave entry for Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Tony Kanaan in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven entry for Andretti Autosport.
"We're disappointed obviously not to get in the Fast 6,” said Franchitti, who earned the PEAK Performance Pole Award in the season opener March 13 in Brazil. “I think we're still missing just a little something. But to get into the Fast 6 this time around was literally a few thousandths of a second. We just have a little more work to do in order to be where we want to be for the race."
All teams worked through the afternoon to tweak cars for the sweeping turns and narrow straights of the racetrack. Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, the third-place finisher at St. Petersburg two weeks ago (advancing 16 positions), will start ninth and E.J. Viso will start 10th in the No. 8 PDVSA-KV Racing Technology car.
Conway’s teammate, Justin Wilson, who started third and fourth in the first two races, posted a best lap of 1:10.7760 (ninth in Round 2) and will start on Row 6 with KV Racing Technology’s Mario Moraes (his highest start in three races).
“The KV Racing Technology engineers came up with a change that really improved the car from yesterday to today,” said Moraes, who didn’t participate in the Open Test. “That made all the difference in qualifying. I think we could have done a little better, but overall it was a good qualifying.”
"Right now, he's our target and we have to keep an eye on him," Brazilian driver Tony Kanaan said. "He's on a good team and he's a very good race car driver. He's got the opportunity of a life and he's taking advantage. That's what makes the difference between the average guys and the good guys."
"It's a long season," Power said. "I haven't changed my approach. I still go into every race trying to get as many points as I can and make no mistakes.
"I guess in a way you probably can relax a little bit more, but in the schedule coming up we've got tough races."
"You've got to take a pass, but you have to make sure you don't take somebody out or yourself out," said Dixon, who starts fifth. "So the track does seem to produce a little bit of a challenge on that direction. But I think everybody here is professional enough to make the judgment. We want to finish the race and collect points."
Castroneves, set to start third, said patience might be a key for that.
"Obviously at some point you're going to get frustrated unless you get out of sequence, and unless you can pass," he said.
Some of the best action could come at Charlotte's Web. That's turn No. 5, a hairpin that follows a straight and is overlooked by a spider sculpture. That's where the best brake work comes into play.
"I think it's going to be tough to pass," said Danica Patrick, who will start 19th out of 25 cars on the grid. "You're going to be lucky to see any really, maybe into turn 5, the hairpin-maybe. There might be some accidents. Maybe there will be bumping while you're trying to do it. Pretty big corners, but the rest of the track is going to be follow the leader. That's my opinion."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske, PEAK Performance Pole Award): "It was a good run today. I have to thank Verizon Team Penske team for the second pole of the season. I just have to keep executing in the races. If we can stay up front and win tomorrow that would be great, but if we aren't in the position to do that, I just can't make mistakes. We knew we needed to qualify in the front because it is difficult to get past anyone. We are going to rely on strategy tomorrow with the tires. We expect a good crowd and hopefully a good race. The tires have been fantastic and I am looking forward to using them in the race. I think three wins a row is possible, but pretty tough to do. Regardless, we are heading in the right direction."
MIKE CONWAY (No .24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, qualified second): "This is my career best qualifying position, so I am excited about where we are starting. I owe a big thank you to the team who has spent a lot of time getting the car ready for this weekend. They are doing a great job, but we still have some work to do tonight before the race tomorrow."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, qualified third): "It's always important to qualify upfront, no matter what place. But certainly here it seems to be a very challenging place. Running behind the other guys, you can see the fast corners that we have here which is pretty exciting. But when you're behind the guy, it's kind of like an oval. It's turning there, and it makes it a little bit difficult to hold on but it's going to be the same for everyone. But the strategy seems to be it's going to be a lot actually different than some of the other races. The fuel window here seems to be huge. So you might see a lot of guys tomorrow trying different things. But certainly today was a great day for Team Penske. We'll continue doing very, very well. But for the No. 3 guys, we are stepping up every race, so hopefully tomorrow will be a good day for us."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venom Energy, qualified fourth): "I think we made kind of the right decisions for each compound of tires and stuff like that. Because there is a bit of a balance change for us, so really it's just about hitting it right. You've got to do everything right. Nowadays it's so close even to make it to the top six. Fortunately, we were able to do that. We were looking good in the second qualifying, but we kind of ran out of Reds there in the end, and that was it."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 5 Lotus-KV Racing Technology, qualified fifth): "First of all, it's a fantastic day for me and the team to go through the Q3 and Firestone Top Six. We're very pleased about it. It was the first time I was in an IndyCar was in February, and to come back here with a more comfortable and understanding the car better and the circuit. So yesterday the car improved every session, which was very good, and very good progress day. It was a bit difficult without any practice to qualify straight in, but difficult for everybody. So it's kind of a question of how much you can put in different set‑ups from yesterday. It was a good feeling. Just getting more confident, and more comfortable. And finally made into Q 3 which was great. Obviously, then I didn't know obviously what to do in terms of the tires, so we used the red. And in the end, to be six is a great day for me. And I'm really looking forward to starting in the third row tomorrow."
DARIO FRANCHITTI: (No. 10 Suave, qualified seventh): "We're disappointed obviously not to get in the fast 6. I think we're still missing just a little something. But to get into the fast 6 this time around was literally a few thousandths of a second. We just have a little more work to do in order to be were we want to be for the race tomorrow."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, qualified eighth): "We took a risk and made a change to the 7-Eleven car for our last run, and it didn't work like we were hoping. If it had worked, we'd be standing here laughing but instead we're wondering why we did what we did. But, it is what it is. We are a lot better than people expected us to be and the field is very, very close. We have one car in the top five and that is great for the team."
E.J. VISO (No. 8 PDVSA-Jet Aviation-KV Racing Technology, qualified 10th): "Today was a big improvement for the KV Racing team. A top-10 in qualifying is not a bad recovery after the tough day we had in practice yesterday. I have to say the grid in the IZOD IndyCar Series is so competitive that just one tenth of a second is worth four or five places. We still need to do some work on the car, but after today I am confident we can make some changes that will help in the race. It is going to be a long race and it will be difficult to overtake. I think the most important thing will be to not make any mistakes and just stay on the track."
JUSTIN WILSON, No. 22 Team Z-Line Designs/DRR, qualified 11th): "The Charter team worked hard to try and get into the Firestone Fast Six today, but we missed it by a tenth of a second. We had a good run on the Firestone Primary (black-sidewall) tires, but when we bolted on the Firestone Alternate (red-sidewall) tires we didn't quite have the balance that we wanted. It will be tough to pass tomorrow, but the crew will make changes today and we will try to work our way to the front in the race. My teammate Mike Conway qualified second and I'm really happy for him."
MARIO MORAES (No. 32 KV Racing Technology, qualified 12th): "The KV Racing Technology engineers came up with a change that really improved the car from yesterday to today. That made all the difference in qualifying. I think we could have done a little better, but overall it was a good qualifying, my best of the season. We just have to keep working on the car and improve it some more for the race."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 37 Team IZOD, qualified 14th): "We've been playing a little bit of catch-up since the first session yesterday and we just didn't have the balance right in the IZOD car. I just wasn't happy with the car. It wasn't a car I could qualify well with. We've been on the outside looking in at this track and we haven't been able to shake it yet."
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic, qualified 17th): I only had one lap with red tires to put my lap time together to get into the top six to get to the next round. I ended up not having enough speed and needed a couple tenths (of a second) more to be in the top-six. For sure we had more potential. I'm so disappointed we weren't able to show it. At one point on my lap, I was up four-tenths of a second on my best time but I made a small mistake in Turn 8. It's a shame we weren't able to do another lap. There was only one lap to try to make a better time and my front tires weren't at their maximum performance yet. They would have been better on the next lap but there was only time to do one lap. Strategy will be very important because of where we are starting the race. Hopefully the timing of a yellow will help us gain a lot of positions. We have the speed so if we can get up front, we can keep the Formula Dream / Panasonic car there. We need our strategy to work out and have some luck."
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 2 HP Luczo Dragon, qualified 18th): "The times looked promising on the black tires for the first part of the qualifying session. Unfortunately, we couldn't improve our times on the red tires as we expected. We need to understand why we couldn't find more speed and come up with a strategy to come from behind as we have in the first two races."
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Team GoDaddy.com, qualified 19th): "It was a challenging qualifying run for the GoDaddy car. We were unable to use our second set of tires due to the full course yellow. But, anything can happen during the race tomorrow and we'll see what we can do."
VITOR MEIRA (No. 14 ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing, qualified 20th): "We didn't come in here thinking we would have the difficulties that we've had. We seem to get it right for the race but qualifying—it's not helping right now. We always have to risk too much on strategy or be smarter than everybody else which is hard to do sometimes. We've got to get qualifying down. I am as much a part of that if not vital for that. The car was much better from yesterday to today, we picked up a lot of time, not only with the car but it had to do with weather and tires. What matters is that we are faster and the gap is less to the leaders. We'll think about it and again do a smart aggressive race strategy, anyway this is A.J.'s way—smart and aggressive, so I bet we're going to go for that. As a team, we need to and I mean everybody including me, we need to get better in qualifying, and once we do that, we'll be in much better shape for the race."
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