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Marco Andretti takes MAVTV 500 Pole

September 15, 2012

Marco Andretti prepped for the MAVTV500 during Wednesday’s test session
Anne Proffit photo

Since he joined the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2006, Marco Andretti’s high points have been few and far between. Yeah, he’s had some good results here and there, along with two victories: his first on the Sonoma road course in his rookie season and the second last year at Iowa.

Andretti has two poles to his credit, as well, at The Milwaukee Mile in 2008 and today, on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval in Fontana, CA. He led a convoy of three Chevrolet drivers to the front of a 26-car field for the MAVTV 500, the series’ final race of the 2012 season. Andretti was the third driver to take a pair of timed laps and his average was216.069 mph, a scant 0.0032 seconds better than second qualifier Ryan Briscoe’s 216.058-mph average. They were the sole drivers over 216-mph.

In his first start on this circuit Andretti said, “My mind was made up I was going flat” in qualifying, “and whatever happened, happened.” While his plan worked on the first lap, he had to lift on the second a little bit in order to keep his No. 26 RC Cola Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone machine on the track as it tightened up. “We’ve shown up here to win this race and I think the track is going to race like a high-speed short oval,” maybe similar to Iowa where he took his first oval victory?

Andretti realized that this year – and throughout his career – the “street circuits have been killing me, not the road courses. We’re going to have to work hard on that in the off-season – it’s been frustrating.” Interesting to note that Marco Andretti has only taken one 10-spot penalty in this 15-race season, at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach where all the Chevrolet teams changed their engines en masse. Whether that’s the luck of the engine draw or whether he’s good on machinery, he won’t say.

Briscoe, who led the pack in morning practice starts outside the front row in his No. 2 IZOD Chevy. “The track is hot, slick and challenging,” he said. With teammate and point leader Will Power 8th in the qualifying order and Briscoe slated to go out 14th, “We adjusted our aero based on Will’s run.

“I’ve got to tell you that Wednesday night’s practice here was unbelievable – I’ve never seen so many racing lines! It was challenging with the sun in your eyes for about 30 minutes but the temps dropped dramatically as the sun goes down and the car comes to life. It was a great test – we did use every inch of the road.”

Although he qualified third, Power is taking a 10-place penalty for fitting his sixth engine of the year in his No. 12 Verizon Chevy – only five are permitted. “This track is very unpredictable; the wind changes, the track changes constantly. I’ve found that if we start on the pole it’s bad but if we start in the back it’s great. This race is 500 miles long so we’ll see how it works out. Around here it seems if you’re struggling, you’ll go back real quick.”

Returning to competition with his left index finger properly sheathed, rookie Josef Newgarden earned fourth on the grid but he, too, is subject to penalty for an unapproved Honda engine change. Scott Dixon was fifth – he’s heading back as well – and Alex Tagliani took sixth after his adventures this morning but he, too, has a sixth engine, putting him 10 spots back.

Tony Kanaan, who won his 1997 Firestone Indy Lights championship on this track earned the seventh best speed with his Chevy-powered GEICO car and will move up incrementally as will JR Hildebrand, who qualified eighth. Ed Carpenter took ninth and Castroneves, both driving Chevy’s round out the top 10, although Castroneves moves back.

Qualifying was held at mid-afternoon under sweltering conditions; neither Justin Wilson (accident in practice) nor Simona de Silvestro (another blown Lotus engine change) answered the bell, so they really will start at the back. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who lies second in points, just 17 behind Will Power, qualified 17th and takes a penalty – so I’m guessing he’ll start in Ontario, somewhere near the airport…

As is customary, INDYCAR will release an absolute grid in the morning after tonight’s final practice, which will be held in late afternoon, a similar time to tomorrow’s 5:30PM PDT start time. NBC Sports Network carries the race live on Saturday – if you’ve ever wanted to see an exciting Indy car race, this looks like it’s going to be a fascinating one. With the championship on the line, engine-change penalties rampant throughout the field, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll end up first – and who will win the title.

By Anne Proffit

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