INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Will Power and Helio Castroneves are turning IndyCar qualifying into a two-man race.
And Team Penske just keeps getting stronger.
Power claimed his third pole of the season and his second at the IndyCar Grand Prix on Friday in a record time of 1 minute, 7.7044 seconds at 129.687 mph on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course. Castroneves was second at 1:08.1169, setting up the teammates for their third consecutive side-by-side start.
“I thought that was a pretty nice lap today, earlier today in practice,” the Australian said. “I mean, I didn’t think it could have been faster.”
Actually, he was much faster in the last qualifying round and broke the previous record by nearly a second.
For now, the battle for the top is internal.
France’s Simon Pagenaud, the defending race and series champion, and American Josef Newgarden have won the last two races for Penske. Power and Castroneves have taken turns winning poles this season, with Castroneves taking two. It didn’t even take two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya long to get up to speed. The Colombian will make his season debut Saturday after qualifying fifth in 1:08.2478.
The only real surprise Friday was that Team Penske only took four of the top five spots.
Newgarden will start third after going 1:08.1622 after breaking the track record earlier in the day while Pagenaud didn’t make the final qualifying group. He was bumped out by France’s Sebastien Bourdais in the closing moments of the third of four qualifying rounds and will start seventh in the 22-car field.
Even the two non-Penske drivers to make the final six felt they were crashing a private party.
“We were kind of best in class and trying to close the gap,” New Zealand’s Scott Dixon said after putting Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 4 spot. “But it’s obviously tough with the Penskes and the driver lineup they have.”
Bourdais, who will start sixth, added: “We’re in the mix, we’re in the fight, this fight being in the middle of a Penske fest. You know, it’s quite good, really, you know, to be — I feel like we’re in a bit of the minority here with Scott.”
No team owner has won more races or more poles at Indy than Penske, who got the 250th pole of his IndyCar career. And if Power can become the third driver in four years to win from the pole, he will become the second two-time winner of the race.
“I’m really determined to have a good race,” Power said. “I’ve been knocking on the door every week, and one is going to go our way here soon. You put yourself in that position, it’ll happen. That’s the plan.”
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
In addition to Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s reputation as the racing capital of the world, the historic venue has hosted everything from balloon races, golf tournaments, airplane races and major concerts.
Track officials added another line Friday night with an outdoor red carpet screening of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been to an outdoor screening before,” actor Tom Everett Scott said.
While Scott enjoys sports, he has not been a big racing fan.
But after a day at Indianapolis, he might become one.
“I love the sound of the cars,” he said.
THE RACE IS ON
The IndyCar GP won’t be the only feature attraction Saturday.
Team owner Sam Schmidt and 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti will compete in their own race in semi-autonomous cars.
Schmidt, who is paralyzed from the neck down, will drive the Z06 SAM Car, a semi-autonomous vehicle that global technology company Arrow Electronics modified for him. Sensors mounted on a high-tech headset that Schmidt wears connect to infrared cameras mounted on the dashboard and detect his head-tilt motions to steer. A sip-and-puff device that Schmidt breathes into enables him to accelerate and brake. Voice commands enable Schmidt to switch gears and turn the car off.
Andretti will use the same technology to drive an Arrow-modified Stingray SAM Car on the road course.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” Andretti said. “I haven’t any sleep the last two nights and I’m not going to have any sleep tonight.”
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