Will Power chalked up the fifth Team Penske pole in the five races so far in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, along the way setting a new track record at the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Friday ahead of this weekend's Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
It's Power's second pole of the season and the 38th of his IndyCar career, after he also took the top spot at the season opener on the streets of St Petersburg. His team mate Juan Pablo Montoya took the next pole of the season at NOLA Motorsports Park, and the two races since then have seen a brace of pole positions for Helio Castroneves.
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"It's the best way possible to start the Month of May," said Power as he celebrated in front of the famous IMS pagoda. "To have a pole at Indianapolis is such great feeling.
"I feel like we've been strong all weekend. I just missed out on a pole at Barber because of the weather, so I was pretty determined today. The guys did a great job with the car and I'm happy to see the Verizon car in P1.
"Just really happy to be on pole," he continued. "Qualifying's a day where you put absolutely everything on the line. It's my favourite part of the weekend. Well, no, actually it's winning on Saturday or Sunday is definitely my favourite part!" he added with a laugh.
Power started the qualifying session by winning his first round group with a time of 1:10.0394s, a comfortable 0.2301s ahead of Montoya. Also going through from the group were KVSH Racing team mates Sebastien Bourdais and Stefano Coletti, CFH Racing's Luca Filippi and Chip Ganassi Racing's Sebastian Saavedra, who won pole for the inaugural road course race at IMS last year in a rain-hit qualifying. James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Motorsport) missed out on progressing to the next round by seven hundredths of a second, meaning that none of the Honda-powered cars made it through from Group 1; to add insult to injury, the engine in Carlos Huertas' Dale Coyne Racing #18 let go and meant a short delay was needed for a clean-up on pit lane.
"We suspected there was something wrong with the engine, but had to go out and do our best," sighed Huertas, back in the car this week after missing the last two events in Louisiana and Alabama. "There was something wrong with it because it was leaking fluid when I got back to pit lane. I think the team will change the engine for tomorrow and I'll do my best starting near the back."
"It's frustrating to not be able to qualify better," said another of the frustrated Honda line-up, Graham Rahal, who will now have to start from 17th place in Saturday's race as a result of the overall disappointing qualifying outcome for the manufacturer. "We've been pretty good in practice but the Chevys somehow crank it up in qualifying.
"We didn't have any more. Maybe there was another couple of hundredths in the car, but I didn't have two tenths," he said, referring to the margin by which he missed the cut to make it into round 2. "It's frustrating because we had a lot of momentum coming into this race. This [Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing] team has just got to try to have a good, clean day tomorrow and hopefully we can move our way forward. I hope it rains, given where we qualified!"
Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon was fastest in the second group with a time of 1:09.7798s, while Helio Castroneves was also able to dip below the 70s mark despite a run-off in turn 1 at one point. That meant that he locked up second place for that group ahead of his Penske team mate Simon Pagenaud, who held the existing track qualifying record of 1:09.6716s set on the road course 12 months ago. Also going through were Dixon's CGR team mate Tony Kanaan, CFH Racing's Josef Newgarden, and AJ Foyt Racing's Jack Hawksworth who became the only one of the Honda cars to make it into round 2.
"It was a solid qualifying run," said the 24-year-old English driver from Bradford. "We ran pretty clean. The car was pretty good, especially in the first round. It didn't feel quite as good in the second round for whatever reason, but we'll have a look through stuff tonight. We just have to keep on getting better and hopefully tomorrow we can have a good day."
The top 12 cars - 11 Chevrolets and just the one Honda - then fought it out to decide which half dozen would make it through to the final Firestone Fast Six pole shoot-out round. Power showed his hand and went to the top of the timesheets by breaking Pagenaud's previous record with a lap clocking in at 1:09.6443s; Pagenaud himself finished in second place in the group 0.1326s behind while Castroneves made it a Penske 1-2-3. Kanaan prevented a total Penske whitewash by setting the fourth fastest time, pushing Montoya down to fifth. Dixon took the final transfer spot, meaning that Bourdais, Saavedra, Filippi and Coletti all missed out on the chance to contend for pole. The last Honda standing also bowed out at this point with Hawksworth settling for 11th place on the grid alongside Newgarden.
Power's new track qualifying record did not last for long: the Australian broke it himself midway through the final round of qualifying, and then for good measure lowered the bar still further before the chequered flag came out. His final pole-winning time - and the record that will go into the books for the next 12 months - was 1:09.4886s (126.357mph) putting him 0.2270s ahead of Dixon who thwarted what hd been expected to be a Penske lock-out. Instead, the rest of Power's colleagues line-up in third, fourth and fifth with Castroneves edging out Montoya, and Pagenaud having to settle for the third row for the start of Saturday's race alongside Kanaan.
"All team mates in the Fast Six," noted a satisfied Power at the Penske performance on Friday. "We're pushing each other hard. Got the Ganassi boys there knocking on the door all the time. Got our work cut out for us. .
“It's great. We all have the same cars, same equipment and everything, so it's always great to get one up on your team mates. But they've all helped to evolve the car, and the reason we're all in the Fast Six is because we work together. It's a great team effort all around, and I'm really happy to see the Verizon Chevrolet at the top."
Dixon was also more than satisfied with a hard-earned second place, putting him on the front row for the start of this week's race.
"I'm happy with the front-row start here for the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis in the Target car. We've had a really fast car here this weekend," he confirmed. "I think the race will be fast and furious here on the road course tomorrow. I'm not sure about the weather holding up but at the end of the day we're on the front row and hopefully any trouble will happen behind us back in the pack if it's wet.
"We've had a good run of late on the road and street courses and I hope that continues here tomorrow for the team," he added.
Andretti Autosport continued to have an uncharacteristically woeful time at Indianapolis, with all four of the team's cars failing to make it through from the first round by a considerable margin.
"We're just struggling as a team right now and have got to put our heads together tonight," admitted Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was in tenth place in his group meaning that he will line-up on the starting grid in 19th position for the green flag. "We've really been struggling with the balance of the car since we rolled of the truck; no idea really how to fix it at the moment.
"We're going to have to put our heads together tonight as a four car team and make the most of it," he added. "Andretti Autosport is pretty good at doing that so we can still have a great race tomorrow - we just have to keep our heads down. It's been a frustrating start to the weekend though."
Carlos Munoz finished just behind Hunter-Reay in the first group which means that he will start immediately behind his team mate on the grid in 21st place. Marco Andretti was only able to set the 12th fastest time in group 2 meaning he will start from 24th, while the squad's newest recruit - veteran IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, making his first appearance with Andretti this weekend - was the best performer for the team but he was still only able to secure 18th place for the start of the 82 lap, 200 mile race.
Teams will now have one final half-hour warm-up session on Saturday morning before the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis itself, which gets the green flag tomorrow afternoon at 3.50pm (8.50pm BST).
See full qualifying times for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis