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Power to Mid-Ohio Pole

August 4, 2012

Qualifying for Sunday’s 85-lap Honda Indy 200 at MId-Ohio Sports Car Course had a result that even someone living under a rock could figure on – Will Power took pole position.

He absolutely annihilated the former pole lap of 66.6814, set by Ryan Briscoe back in 2009, two years after the Indy cars began racing on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn undulating road course.

Power’s lap of 65.662 seconds in the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Chevy/Firestone Indy car bettered Dario Franchitti’s 65.895-second lap in the No. 10 Target Honda and rookie Simon Pagenaud’s 65.904-second tour in his No. 77 HP/Schmidt Hamilton Honda. Only those three broke the 66-second barrier.

Facing a 10-spot grid penalty Alex Tagliani was fourth for No. 98 Team Barracuda/BHA Honda, defending race winner Scott Dixon (No. 9 Target Honda) and Briscoe in the No. 2 PPG Chevy rounded out the Firestone Fast Six, who engaged in ten minutes of fighting to earn pole position.

None of them were able to break the track’s absolute record set by Franchitti in a Honda-powered Champ Car in 1999 and equaled by Gil de Ferran in a similar car in 2000 of 65.347, but it sure was close, wasn’t it?

The three rounds of knockout time trials, held under somewhat cloudy and warm skies – no rain today – had rather interesting results. In the first group of 12, Justin Wilson, Tagliani, Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud and Oriol Servia advanced, giving Honda four out of six moving into the round of 12. In the second group of 13 drivers, it was Sebastien Bourdais, Power, Franchitti, Briscoe, Marco Andretti and rookie Josef Newgarden moving on, with Chevy the winner in this grouping.

Round two saw Dixon as top dog, followed by Tagliani, Power, Franchitti, Pagenaud and Briscoe moving up in that order, with Bourdais, RHR, Andretti, Newgarden, Servia and Wilson failing to make the cut.

Power relied on scuffed Firestone alternate red tires to set two laps quicker than Dixon’s best in the second round of 65.806, setting his best on his final lap. By the time the third Firestone Fast Six round began it was evident everyone in the top 12 was under the old track record – it was just a matter of by how much.

“Once I got the tires up to temperature they really started working for me and the car really hooked up,” Power said. “I’ve never seen so much grip in this car,” which could be down to the car itself and the Team Penske setup decided in the pits.

“That was the most physical the car has been all season and it’s the hardest I’ve tried all year, the most I’ve put into a lap,” said the series runner-up to Franchitti the past two seasons. “We needed that pole,” something he stated on Friday as being his goal for Saturday’s qualifying. “We understand the task at hand is to win the championship; we have to continually go for it and win races.”

Earning his fifth straight front-row start, reigning titleholder Dario Franchitti said, “Qualifying was a lot of fun. I got everything out of the car and thought it was a pretty good lap but then, I saw Will’s time and knew it hadn’t been quite enough. Having to run Q3 on the same set of tires – they were pretty much gone already. We tried to make a few changes, but the front tires were worn… ”

Power’s teammate Helio Castroneves, currently three points ahead of him in the points chase, had a day he’d like to forget on Saturday. During the morning practice, the Brazilian came upon Mike Conway’s slower car exiting the pits in the second turn; Conway tried to make space for Castroneves but the two collided and Helio bruised his left wrist fairly severely and subsequently qualified 13th. Because there is a newer spec Chevy engine available, Team Penske president Tim Cindric opted to change engines on Castroneves’ car, relegating him to 23rd spot on the grid.

It’s worthwhile noting that Mid-Ohio has claimed two hands since last week – Charlie Kimball’s and Helio Castroneves, placing the American on the sidelines and putting Giorgio Pantano on his No. 38 Novo Nordisk Honda car out of Chip Ganassi’s stables. Pantano, who’d never seen the Mid-Ohio circuit until he arrived was 24th in qualifying, but still almost four-tenths ahead of Ed Carpenter, who just doesn’t seem to get the road courses yet.

Here’s the way qualifying ended – remember that both Tagliani and Castroneves march 10 steps back. INDYCAR releases the complete grid after Sunday morning warmup:

1. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 01:05.6474 (123.825)
2. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 01:05.8950 (123.360)
3. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 01:05.9038 (123.343)
4. (98) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 01:06.0047 (123.155)
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 01:06.0967 (122.983)
6. (2) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 01:06.2005 (122.791)
7. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 01:05.9405 (123.275)
8. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 01:06.0660 (123.041)
9. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 01:06.1142 (122.951)
10. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 01:06.1721 (122.843)
11. (22) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 01:06.2053 (122.782)
12. (18) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 01:06.6613 (121.942)
13. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 01:06.7041 (121.864)
14. (4) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy, 01:06.3768 (122.464)
15. (8) Rubens Barrichello, Dallara-Chevy, 01:06.7101 (121.853)
16. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 01:06.4349 (122.357)
17. (14) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 01:06.7807 (121.724)
18. (15) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 01:06.4404 (122.347)
19. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 01:06.8433 (121.610)
20. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 01:06.4511 (122.328)
21. (19) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 01:07.1234 (121.102)
22. (38) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 01:06.6250 (122.008)
23. (78) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Lotus, 01:08.0737 (119.412)
24. (83) Giorgio Pantano, Dallara-Honda, 01:07.0348 (121.262)
25. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 01:08.5116 (118.649)

Another wrinkle in this tale is the prospect of rain on Sunday, with forecasters calling for a 70 percent chance of precipitation. Franchitti thought, “If it stays dry for tomorrow, we’re in a great position to challenge for the win. But if it rains, then it’s anyone’s race.” The 2008 began wet but dried before its conclusion; no one in paddock remembers racing on the Mid-Ohio race course in the wet prior to this weekend, so this could be a very nice crap shoot!

By Anne Proffit

Photo courtesy IZOD IndyCar Series LAT/USA

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