The defending Verizon IndyCar Series Champion is not quite ready to let go of his crown. Will Power earned a bonus championship point by capturing the Pole for tomorrow’s season finale at Sonoma. It’s the sixth pole of the year for Power, and the 42nd of his career, which is fifth on the all-time list. The Aussie posted a lap at 1:16.2597 in the final round of qualifying, breaking his own track record.
Championship contender Josef Newgarden will start alongside Power on the front row. Row 2 features Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pageanud, while Row 3 is occupied by the top two drivers in the standings, Juan Montoya and Graham Rahal. Four of the six drivers eligible to win the championship this weekend are starting in the top six.
Scott Dixon is third in the standings, with a realistic shot at winning the title. It will be tough for the Chip Ganassi driver though, as he qualified 9th on Saturday. Helio Castroneves had a very slim shot at winning the crown entering this weekend, but he will need to pull off a miracle tomorrow. The Brazilian failed to advance in the first round of qualifying, and will start back in 15th position on Sunday.
Sebastian Saavedra had a solid run in the No. 8 Ganassi car, qualifying tenth. Mikhail Aleshin returned to the series for the first time in over a year, qualifying 14th in a third car for SPM. Oriol Servia qualified the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda in 19th, filling in for the late Justin Wilson.
Two big records are on the line tomorrow, in addition to the championship, which will be decided in the final race of the season for the tenth straight year. Team Penske is looking to win their first race since the Indianapolis 500, which was 99 days ago. Chip Ganassi is still searching for his 100th IndyCar victory.
Qualifying is always important, but even more so at Sonoma.
A Chevrolet-powered car will have started from Pole position in all 16 races this season. Team Penske started 13 of the 16 races from the top spot; Six poles for Power, four for Castroneves, one from Pagenaud, and Montoya started two races on pole after qualifying was rained out.
Three drivers, Tony Kanaan, Castroneves, and Pagenaud, are still searching for the first win of the season, and this is obviously their last opportunity to do so. Kanaan was in this same position last year, and won the final race of the season, his first with his new team. For Castroneves, he’s looking to keep an impressive statistic alive. In the last 17 years, there has only been one season where Castroneves failed to win a race. Perhaps expectations were too high for Pagenaud entering the year, but he has had somewhat of a disappointing first campaign with Team Penske.
Here are the six drivers who are gunning for the title tomorrow, and where they stand.
- Juan Montoya
- Graham Rahal (-34)
- Scott Dixon (-47)
- Will Power (-60)
- Helio Castroneves (-77)
- Josef Newgarden (-87)
The race distance is 85 laps, which is 202.7 miles around the 2.385-mile road course. Power won the Pole for last year’s race, and Dixon is the defending race winner. Coverage for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma begins at 4 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.
Highlights from today’s qualifying session can be seen below, courtesy of IndyCar.
Will Power: “Basically, we were just going to do two one-lap runs on the used reds, but Newgarden went out and put a pretty good time up, so we had no choice but to use the new blacks at the end there. It was the obvious choice at the end but I had to work for it. I’m really stoked. I love qualifying and very happy to end the year with a pole position.”
Juan Montoya: “I’m pretty happy. On road courses we’ve gotten better. It’s kind of funny because, apart from Indy (Grand Prix), we haven’t made the Fast Six on a road course. It was encouraging today that we did. I felt like we did a really good job in practice this morning and again in qualifying. We have to be smart, we have to be patient and see what it brings.”
Helio Castroneves: “We had a fantastic Hitachi Chevrolet this morning. Unfortunately, the track changed. We made a little change and it obviously didn’t go how we had hoped. We had a little bit of understeer and it just didn’t work for us on the red (alternate) tires. Hopefully, it will come around for us tomorrow. It will definitely make it more challenging starting in the middle of the pack, but we know the Hitachi car is fast. As we’ve seen this year, anything can happen and we’ll be doing our best.”
Ryan Briscoe: “I just didn’t get a lap together on the reds for qualifying in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics car. I was feeling really competitive on the black tire and then I just had a mess of a run on reds and didn’t get a clear lap with the guys around me, and didn’t go any quicker on the softer tires. I think we’re better than that. It’s going to be an interesting race. If it’s anything like Mid-Ohio, strategy is going to play a huge part and I think if we can get the car to the front, we’ll be able to race at the front so that’s got to be the goal.”
Sebastian Saavedra: “It was a very positive Saturday for us. We definitely made a lot of progress from yesterday. We gave it all we had out there in qualifying, but I think there’s still a little more we can do to make the race car quicker. I’m happy with the position we’re starting in tomorrow and I’m just excited to get out there for the race tomorrow.”
Scott Dixon: “I’m not sure who was ahead of us out on track in qualifying but they sprayed dirt all over the track around Turn 6. Kanaan and I both went through it and that just killed both our lap times. It’s very tight out there and you simply can’t afford to lose time like that. The Target team will have to come up with a great strategy for tomorrow and we’ll do our best to come to the front.”
Tony Kanaan: “Someone in front of myself, Dixon, and Munoz got a wheel off the track and put so much dust in front of us in Turn 6. It’s not a coincidence that the last three cars in that second group were myself, Dixon, and Munoz. It was just bad luck for us – there’s nothing you can do about it. Obviously the guy in front of us didn’t want to go off-track, but unfortunately we all lost a lot on our fast lap times.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “Obviously, qualifying didn’t go the way we wanted. The Hydroxycut guys did a good job preparing the car and I think we had a chance to qualify in the top 10. Then on my fast lap another car, that had no chance of recording a timed lap before the checkered flag, came out of the pits in front of me. He tried to get out of the way, but put four tires in the dirt right in front of me and that was the end of my lap. It’s a shame because qualifying is so important here. We’ll just have to figure out a way to gain some track position tomorrow so we can finish the season on a high.”
Takuma Sato: “It was a tough qualifying session for us. We struggled for speed throughout the practice session but then the car was improved after the first run in qualifying, so I had a positive feeling. Unfortunately there was a bit of traffic on course when we were on our quick lap so we weren’t quick enough to get through to the second segment. Last year we made a good improvement in the warmup session on race day, so I guess we have to do that again.”
Graham Rahal: “We changed quite a bit (during qualifying). I know we’ve been up front and everybody thinks things have been really good, but we’ve just been struggling to get a really good balance this weekend. Obviously I’m disappointed to be sixth, which is a good thing, but disappointed to be there. We were definitely capable. Particularly on new tires, the car was pretty good. But the second run, I don’t know why, they just had a lot of fall-off. Another thing is a lot of guys seemed to run a new set of blacks (primary tires) in (the Firestone Fast Six). We decided to keep them for tomorrow, so either they’ve got more tires than us or we’re making a wrong move or they are. I’m looking forward to getting out there tomorrow, it’s a new day. Our strength all season has been on the entire run, the entire race, and putting ourselves in a good spot. It’s a lot easier to come from sixth than it is 13th or further back. I’m looking forward to it.”
Luca Filippi: “We missed the Fast 12 by half a tenth to (Juan) Montoya which is a shame. It’s frustrating because the car was good. I think we could have easily been in the top 10. Now I have found a good feeling in with car and also with the circuit which is very tricky. Coming here without any testing was not easy but now I feel confident for tomorrow. As we know in INDYCAR anything can happen. I am very motivated to finish the season on a high. It was good that Josef (Newgarden) had a good qualifying run, which shows we have a good car as well and we will both have a good opportunity tomorrow.”
Oriol Servia: “It’s tough. Everything is wrong (about this weekend) – Justin (Wilson) should be here. Apart from that, I haven’t been on a road course in a year and a half, and I’m not going to say how long it’s been since I’ve been in a gym. Yesterday was a wakeup call. The car was really good. I just feel like I’m one session behind. Now on blacks I was only a couple tenths off Marco, so it looked good. But that was the first time I’ve put reds on so I didn’t know how much there was there to gain. The car felt the best balance it’s felt all day yesterday and today so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Marco Andretti: “I’m a little bit bummed to be starting in eighth. I was hoping to make the (Firestone) Fast Six. We came up to Turn 6 and it was covered in dirt so we lost a lot of our time there. Definitely unlucky, but can be done from (eighth).”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “It was a good day after breaking the track record in practice one this morning. I had a really good car this morning. The heat made things a little bit more difficult for qualifying but, as they say, it’s the same for everyone. We had P1 locked up for a good part of the (Firestone) Fast Six. Just lost out a little bit on tires’ choice at the end. In hindsight I went with the strong set of tires. We went with a used set and they didn’t quite get us through. Starting P3 tomorrow we can, hopefully, get it done. Good to have the DHL Honda starting up front.”
Jack Hawksworth: “We went out there, did a couple laps on the black tires, came in for the reds (tires) and made some changes. It felt a bit better but then we had an engine issue and lost power. It was not a good day. We’ll try and have a good one tomorrow.”
Josef Newgarden: “I’m proud of us. It’s great having GoPro here with us this weekend. It’s their home event and it’s a lot of fun to have them on our car at CFH Racing. It’s been a really fun year. It’s been an amazing year in a lot of ways, tough year in others. We were close today, but no cigar. We got bumped at the end so we’ll have to get them tomorrow.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “I don’t think it was that bad for the first race weekend in the No. 77 SMP Racing car after a year. I’m glad that we made good progress with the car setup during the practices and I think that’s why qualifying also wasn’t too bad. I always aim for more. I was hoping to be better than that, but probably to get there you need to do the full season, the same as the other guys. So I think it’s not so bad to be in the middle.”
Qualification Photos via IndyCar