Power runs quickest, Castroneves captures pole, six different teams in first three rows of IndyCar Grand Prix Qualifying …

Posted: March 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

Pole winner

By Dave Lewandowski
IndyCar Media

LEEDS, Ala. – Will Power set a Barber Motorsports Park course record of 1 minute, 9.8529 seconds in the Chevrolet-powered No. 12 Verizon Team Penske on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn circuit in Round 1 of IZOD IndyCar Series qualifications.

But the Australian-born/North Carolina resident, who won the 2011 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from the pole, will start ninth in the 90-lap race (2 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network). He had competed in the past 20 Firestone Fast Six sessions, which sets the first three rows, dating to the 2010 season.

Click it: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama starting lineup

If that’s not surprising enough, how about six different teams represented in the Firestone Fast Six? Or second-year competitor James Hinchcliffe starting on the front row? Maybe Mike Conway starting fifth, providing A.J. Foyt Racing with its best starting position since 2007 at St. Pete with Darren Manning? OK, then how about JR Hildebrand advancing to his first Firestone Fast Six? Finally, would you have wagered that reigning series champion Dario Franchitti would start 18th?

Yes, in this season of new car, new engines, new tire compounds – and mixing in a damp asphalt racing ribbon and interesting strategy in each timed session at Barber – parity is coming to the fore as veteran drivers predicted in the preseason.

Power, who earned the IZOD IndyCar Series Pole Award in the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg a week earlier, didn’t qualify for the Firestone Fast Six — breaking a streak of five races of starting on the front row of road/street races.

The award went to Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves with a best lap of 1:10.4768 in the Firestone Fast Six. Castroneves was the 2010 winner at Barber and the race winner at St. Pete.

“We made some changes and that put us good for second qualifying,” said Castroneves, whose last pole was at Twin Ring Motegi in 2010. “In the end, Will and some other competitors not making it was tough and it is better being lucky than good. The Firestone (alternate) red tires were great and have a lot of grip. The Firestone tires were able to give me Top 6 and thanks again Firestone.”

Castroneves and Scott Dixon are tied with the most Firestone Fast Six appearances with 32.

Hinchcliffe, driving the No. 27 GoDaddy.com car for Andretti Autosport, earned his first front-row start.

“Obviously, a great start for us to be on the outside of the front row,” said Hinchcliffe, last season’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year. “It’s a great result after the way practice went (March 30) and being rained out, then being fogged out this morning, we only had 14 dry laps coming into qualifying.”

Dixon, the race runner-up at St. Petersburg, and Conway will share Row 2, while Hildebrand and Tony Kanaan will occupy Row 3.

“This is what we are trying to accomplish this year and we are trying to improve our road program,” said Hildebrand, driver of the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car who qualified 15th in his Barber debut last year. “Obviously, this is going a long way to show that we are getting there.”

E.J. Viso and Graham Rahal – both of whom had a previous best start at Barber of 10th — are on Row 4, and Power will be joined by Simon Pagenaud on Row 5. Pagenaud, driving the No. 77 Schmidt-Hamilton HP Motorsports car, qualified 23rd last year at Barber in his IZOD IndyCar Series debut and finished eighth.

Power, who was quickest of the 26 competitors in practice March 30, was ninth in the second qualifying session. He completed only two laps (best of 1:12.0098) before a red flag was shown with about 2 minutes left for the stalled car of Ryan Hunter-Reay (spun in Turn 9 and made light contact with the right-side wall) that completed the session.

“It’s a pretty frustrating qualifying result,” he said. “Man, we had a great Verizon car. We had a good first session and we were ready to fight for the pole. It’s definitely going to be tough starting ninth, but we know we’ve got a fast car. We have to have a good start and be strong on the restarts and hopefully work our way up front.”

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