For the third consecutive year, Will Power will lead the field to the green flag at Texas Motor Speedway. The defending series champion was the first to qualify on Friday, and ended up with his fourth pole of the season. The 2011 race winner’s two-lap average speed was 218.519 mph.
Power will be joined on the front row by one of his teammates, Simon Pagenaud. A third Penske car, Helio Castroneves, will join Carlos Munoz in Row 2. The third row features this year’s Indy 500 winner Juan Montoya, and Graham Rahal. Rows 4 and 5 belong to Chip Ganassi, with Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, and Sage Karam. All four Penske cars and all four Ganassi cars qualified in the top ten.
Ed Carpenter won this race last year, but his struggle this season continues. He qualified 12th after struggling with the handling on his CFH Racing machine. His teammate Josef Newgarden will start one row behind him in 14th position. Ryan Briscoe is filling in for the injured James Hinchcliffe again this week. The former Texas winner had a bad first lap in qualifying, and will start the race from 19th position.
Earlier this week, IndyCar announced they have implemented closure panels to the superspeedway aero kits, which will help prevent the cars from getting airborne if turned backwards. These panels will be used at Texas, Pocono, and Fontana. IndyCar also mandated a rear wing angle between (-6) and (-10.5) degrees, which will give the cars more downforce compared to last year’s race at Texas.
Earlier in the day, teams and drivers had a 75-minute practice session, which was both good and bad. It was the first opportunity for everyone to see how the cars would handle with the new closed rear end wheel guards. Unfortunately, Ryan Hunter-Reay lost control of his car in turn 2, which resulted in rear end damage to his No. 28 Honda. The Andretti Autosport team got the car repaired before qualifying, and he will start 21st tomorrow night.
Graham Rahal was very vocal on the handling of the cars, and how it would translate to the race tomorrow, which is under the lights. He said they’re on edge, and that there won’t be any pack racing. He told Indy Star’s Curt Cavin, “Every move you make is life or death, and that’s not fun.” When asked about Hunter-Reay’s accident, he responded; “That’s going to be pretty easy to do in the race.”
Six drivers have won the Texas race from the pole: Sam Hornish Jr. (2001), Gil de Ferran (2003), Castroneves (2004), Tomas Scheckter (2005), Dixon (2008) and Briscoe (2010). Drivers who have won at Texas have gone on to win the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship five times.
There will be one more practice (30 minutes) this evening, beginning at 7:45 PM ET. The race distance is 248 laps, which is 360.84 miles around the 1.455-mile oval. Carpenter is the defending race winner. Coverage for the Firestone 600 begins at 8 PM ET on NBCSN.
Will Power: “I drew number one obviously this morning in the drivers meeting. I was a little worried about the conditions. It kind of stayed consistent over the whole run of qualifying. I was really happy to get pole honestly. I felt if I could be in the top five, I’d be happy. Starting first, really happy about that. The race, it’s going to be interesting. You got all this stuff you can put on to add downforce if you want. But it’s quite draggy, so you lose a bit of speed. It’s going to be about finding the right compromise for speed loss versus grip. I guess we’ll try some things tonight and see how it all stacks up. I think you’ll see a few different variations of what people bolt on as far as body kits go for the race. I’ve always liked this place a lot. It’s fun to drive. It’s not just stuck. The car moves around. It’s hard. I feel like it’s a real driver’s oval. I enjoy that. My wife’s from here, so I got the whole family out here. I got the pressure to always do well. Otherwise, won’t be invited to dinner.”
Juan Montoya: “We took all the downforce out of the car and see where it runs. I think we are pretty good. The balance is not there yet. We need some work to do to be a little quicker, but it is what it is. The aero kits drive a little different. We are just trying to figure out what we need to do and where we need to run. We have options to run a lot more downforce if we want to. It is a big penalty so you have to figure out what is the best compromise.”
Helio Castroneves: “It was a good run for the AAA Chevrolet. We know the car is strong and Team Penske is all working together as a team. But we know here, it really doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you finish and we feel we have a strong car for the race.”
Stefano Coletti: “It was the first time for me on a high banked oval. To be honest any ovals are new to me. Unfortunately in practice this morning we had a problem with the car, which meant I lost about 35 minutes of the session and on a track like this you need as much track time as possible especially when you only have one 75-minute session before qualifying. It was my first time with a half way trim for qualifying as we didn’t have enough time to be fully trimmed out and it was ok, but we could have done more. We will work on our race setup this evening, it will be a little easier with cooler track temps and luckily oval races are long so it won’t matter quite so much where we start.” (On his second oval race and first race at Texas) “Indianapolis and Texas are completely different. Here it is pretty hard, almost like riding a roller coaster. It squishes you down like you were going up and down on a ride. It is a lot of fun to drive and to be honest the first time I got on track this morning, I thought ‘wow this is banked’ but I think by tomorrow I will be used to it.”
Ryan Briscoe: “I sort of screwed the first lap for us and thought we’d be able to run the middle groove of the track. I figured we could run a good lap that way but it was just slow. The second lap, I brought the car down to the white line and had decent speed on tires, but our average was out the window at that point. I felt like we made good changes to the No. 5 Arrow Electronics car going into qualifying. We didn’t do any qual sims this morning so I thought it was a good effort by the guys and we just have to work our way forward in the race.”
James Jakes: “It was disappointing because we could’ve been in the top five, I think. We just had a bit of bad luck when we hit the limiter going into turn one. I’m not sure why, we’ll go back and look at it but it definitely cost us quite a bit of speed there. We have a good race car with the No. 7 SPM MediaTech Honda and we’re just going to focus on tomorrow.”
Sage Karam: “This was my first time here at Texas Motor Speedway so this morning was just about getting comfortable with a higher downforce level compared to my teammates. I really like that qualifying format. We trimmed out a lot compared to this morning, but I am still running a bit more downforce than my teammates so that’s why my speed was a little low.”
Scott Dixon: “For the most part it’s about consistency – a consistent car over the stint. That’s the hardest part, the degradation here and the amount you slow down is almost 15 miles per hour in a stint. That’s going to be key, but obviously getting to the end of the race to start with is the big one. I’ve come up short here a few times, but I have a quick car. Hopefully the No. 9 Energizer EcoAdvancedTM Chevrolet is going to be fast. It seems pretty good in long runs.”
Tony Kanaan: “Our qualifying run was okay – obviously not as fast as we wanted it to be. We did one qualifying run this morning during the practice session and we made some changes we thought would work. Once we went out on track we realized those changes weren’t the best way to go. Qualifying here at Texas Motor Speedway is such an unknown, so it is what it is. We’ll work more on the race setup tonight and make sure everything is good to go for tomorrow night’s race.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “I think the Hydroxycut machine is a good race car. It’s just in qualifying trim we didn’t get it right. That is the problem with just one practice session before qualifying. We didn’t get a good read, so in qualifying the car was a bit too free and we didn’t take enough downforce out. It’s a shame. It is going to make our life a bit harder tomorrow starting 18th.”
Takuma Sato: “It’s exciting to be back at Texas Motor Speedway-very fast and it feels good after the very bumpy track at Detroit. We worked on various things this morning because we only had one practice session before qualifying and we had to figure out the qualifying trim and the race package. The car perhaps isn’t fully optimized but I think the boys did a good job and the car is reasonably fast so I will be happy with that and hopefully we’ll have a strong package for tomorrow.”
Graham Rahal: “Starting up towards the front with these boys is exactly where we need to be. Obviously points are a big focus for us right now. Tomorrow is going to be a tough race; everybody is going to have to manage their tires as well as they can. I feel like our race car is pretty good and I feel like track position is going to be pretty important here too. We’ll just keep working hard and keep our heads down and it will be just fine. For qualifying, the car was pretty loose. We ran more downforce and more drag than some people. Here it is a fine balance: it’s not just about taking off downforce and drag anymore. I’m just happy to have this car up there. I’m proud of this team. These guys have very worked hard. Obviously I’m a part of that but I really give all the credit to them because it’s a different organization and I’m very proud of them. This weekend is a big test for us. We weren’t very happy here last year and we’re just working as hard as we can to put ourselves in a good spot for the race.”
Pippa Mann: “The biggest thing for tomorrow is going to be having a good race car. This morning in testing, we didn’t trim out at all in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing car. We are going to go back out there this evening and keep working on our race setup and hopefully all this effort will pay dividends tomorrow for the race.”
Tristan Vautier: “The practice session tonight will be very important for our car setup for the race tomorrow. This morning was as well. We just did a quick qualifying sim at the same time as everyone else. I was hoping we would have a little more speed, to be honest, and the car felt a little bit better than P16. I was flat across the line and that is the speed you got. It is OK; we will just focus on the race. There will be a lot of things happening in the race and hopefully we will have a good package for tomorrow.”
Ed Carpenter: “It’s not a speed problem for us, we know how to make the cars go fast. However, it’s hard to do that when the car does not handle well as well as we know it can. We have to figure out how to make this new car work with this new package. We haven’t done a good enough job of that up to this point, but we will keep working on it.”
Simon Pagenaud: “The car is really nice actually. It’s a nice carry over from Indy. Just missed it by a little bit, right? I tried to push it as hard as I could. Yeah, we dropped a bit on the second lap, but hat off to the Team Penske boys. They’re giving us fantastic cars. It makes our lives super easy as a driver. Tonight is going to be a great session, practice in the cool condition. It’s going to be interesting to see how the cars behave in race trim. But this morning was surprisingly pretty good for us on the No. 22 car. (On the aero kits) I think actually INDYCAR is really well balanced with the level of downforce. This morning was interesting. It’s really in our hands to drive the car, slide around a little bit in the corners. The tires are being used up quite a bit because of the lack of downforce. It’s great. It’s giving us the opportunity to really drive hard. There’s a bit of a drop-off I think you’ll see similar to last year where we’re going to start pretty fast, in the 215 mph area, and then we’re going to drop off in the 205 mph average at the end of a stint. It’s going to be interesting strategy, a lot of passing. That’s what it’s all about here in Texas. Pretty excited about it actually.”
Carlos Munoz: “I think it was a good run, you know. Having my two teammates in front help us a lot to settle the car up with the bars, the aero. Have to thank them both for the feedback as well. Going out for qualifying, we thought Chevy would be better than us, all the Chevys, you know. But it seems like only the Penskes were the quick ones. We were faster than the other guys. But just qualifying for the race, hopefully with more aero, we can put more for the Honda tomorrow. We will see how it goes. I think practicing tonight will be closer to the race for tomorrow. We are going to see where we are really. For sure, qualifying is not really important here. But it’s important because it’s hard to pass on this track. Cleaner air, the tires work less. We will see tomorrow. It’s a long race. We have one more practice today, we’ll see.”
Marco Andretti: “I’m really happy with the No. 27 crew, we’re really maximizing as much as we can in situations. All we can do is the best we can and we just have to keep plugging. The race here is always interesting and we should be able to find a few spots tomorrow night.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “After having the car in the wall this morning, we had to go with something for qualifying (setup). We had to be a little conservative with it – we certainly missed it, but we expected to, though. Qualifying here at Texas doesn’t mean much, but hopefully we were able to (relay information) to help the teammates out a little bit.” (About qualifying after not being able to shake the car down after its rebuild): “It’s all about faith, you have no choice other than to have trust in the car and have faith that it’s going to be there for you when you go into Turn 1 the first time. It’s definitely a tough thing to do, and most INDYCAR drivers have been there, but we just have to get along with it. Lap 1 is interesting no matter what, but we got through it. We knew we were going to miss it, but we can make up a bunch of spots on Lap 1tomorrow.”
Jack Hawksworth: “We didn’t have a great qualifying run but practice went pretty good this morning and the car seems to be working pretty decent in race trim. We have one more practice in race trim and we’ll see if we can dial it in to run up high and run down low because we’re going to have to do some passing tomorrow.”
Josef Newgarden: “This morning we were probably the only team that did not do a qualification simulation run, that’s why we appeared to jump up quite a bit in our qualifying times. It’s still not good enough, we’re not where we need to be. It was hard to make up any ground with only a one-hour session and then qualifying. We have another half an hour practice tonight to keep working on it. We’ll keep fighting, we’ve got a great team at CFH Racing. It’s a long night tomorrow, we’re going to put our heads down and see what we can get out of it.”
Charlie Kimball: “The No. 83 Levemir FlexTouch Chevrolet’s qualifying run was pretty good. We had a little more understeer than we would’ve liked which was too bad because I think we’ve been pretty quick this weekend so far in practice. We spent a lot of time during this morning’s practice working on our race car, so we’ll see where we’re at during tonight’s practice heading into tomorrow’s race.”
Gabby Chaves: “The car was a lot more neutral for qualifying. I think we were just too stuck in practice. We had a wheel break in practice, which was pretty scary. After that, we put only a new right rear only on. That threw off our tire run plan a bit and might have sent us in the wrong direction, setup-wise. So we went a little conservative for qualifying; but now I think we’re figuring it out and will be better in race trim.”
Qualification Photos via IndyCar