Ryan Hunter-Reay did everything possible in Saturday's qualifying for the 11th round of the 2012 IndyCar season to ensure the best chance at his fourth straight win. Despite a 10-spot grid penalty looming for an unapproved engine change after his Toronto win, Hunter-Reay used scuffed Firestone reds to score his first pole of the season, second of his IndyCar career (Milwaukee 2004, flag-to-flag victory).
“The track was constantly changing, and it was fully wet before the track started drying,” he said. “It was hard to come to the decision to go to with used reds. We thought originally, ‘Let's go for 13th or 14th.' Instead we went and got the pole which is awesome, a double bonus. It was pretty hairy.”
The penalty promotes Dario Franchitti to pole position. Ironically, it's the second time this year Franchitti has inherited a pole position when a Chevrolet driver named Ryan incurred a 10-spot grid penalty despite qualifying P1 – Ryan Briscoe performed the feat at Long Beach. Hunter-Reay gets the point, and almost was thankful Franchitti was the beneficiary as the Scotsman has qualified on pole in each of the last three races.
A mistake on his last flying lap cost Franchitti a shot at the outright pole.
“It was raining in Turn 1 again, and it seems here that's first place rain comes,” said Franchitti. “And offf I went. Every time I've started from the pole, he's won, and now he gets the point for pole! Hopefully, there's more predictable conditions tomorrow.”
Rain interrupted the full qualifying session after a dry Q1, then wet Q2. The conditions lighted by the time Q3 occurred with Hunter-Reay, Franchitti, two Team Penske drivers (Briscoe, Helio Castroneves), and Honda runners Alex Tagliani and Takuma Sato in the Firestone Fast Six.
Briscoe made it to third by the end of Q3 ahead of 2011 Edmonton polesitter Sato, Tagliani and Castroneves. It's Tagliani's third straight Firestone Fast Six appearance for the single-car Team Barracuda-BHA and Sato's best start of the season.
Seventh and eliminated after Q2 was Will Power, in dire need of a strong result with only one top-five finish since his win at Brazil in April.
“Everyone went out on wets, and the track was kinda sprinkled with water,” said Power. “The last lap was the quickest chance, and I made a mistake in (Turn) 1. It was foolish of me not to know that. We gotta have a good day. It's been bad day after bad day after bad day.”
Power, who's still won this year from ninth and 12th on the grid, was set to line up sixth with Hunter-Reay's grid penalty taken into effect. Another of the title contenders, Scott Dixon, who qualified eighth, will take a 10-spot grid penalty for utilizing a sixth fresh engine.
After qualifying, however, Penske Racing president and Power's race strategist Tim Cindric confirmed Power, too, will take a 10-spot grid penalty to update to the latest Chevrolet engine specification.
"Taking 10 grid penalty with @12WillPower 2 get latest spec.With 9 and 28 taking penaties,we don't give up much.Just need a good start + luck," Cindric wrote on Twitter slightly before 5:30 p.m. Eastern.
Simon Pagenaud, Rubens Barrichello, Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe were set round out the top 10. Justin Wilson narrowly missed advancing out of his group in Q1 but will now move up to tenth.
Panther Racing/DRR teammates JR Hildebrand and Oriol Servia have each hit their mileage limit and will be able to change to a fresh Chevrolet engine without penalty, and Marco Andretti was 10 laps away from hitting a mileage limit on his Chevrolet prior to qualifying as well. Andretti could change engines without penalty if he too hit that mileage limit.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap
1. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Dallara-Chevy 1m17.2338s
2. Dario Franchitti Ganassi Dallara-Honda 1m17.2446s + 0.0108s
3. Ryan Briscoe Penske Dallara-Chevy 1m17.4238s + 0.1900s
4. Takuma Sato Rahal Dallara-Honda 1m17.5526s + 0.3188s
5. Alex Tagliani Herta Dallara-Honda 1m17.6139s + 0.3801s
6. Helio Castroneves Penske Dallara-Chevy 1m17.6401s + 0.4063s
7. Will Power Penske Dallara-Chevy 1m27.5666s Round 2
8. Scott Dixon Ganassi Dallara-Honda 1m27.7001s Round 2
9. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt Dallara-Honda 1m27.8410s Round 2
10. Rubens Barrichello KV Dallara-Chevy 1m28.2521s Round 2
11. Graham Rahal Ganassi Dallara-Honda 1m28.6737s Round 2
12. James Hinchcliffe Andretti Dallara-Chevy 1m28.7409s Round 2
13. Justin Wilson Coyne Dallara-Honda 1m16.6190s Group 1
14. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon Dallara-Chevy 1m16.9747s Group 2
15. Josef Newgarden Fisher Dallara-Honda 1m16.7533s Group 1
16. James Jakes Coyne Dallara-Honda 1m16.9900s Group 2
17. Marco Andretti Andretti Dallara-Chevy 1m16.9881s Group 1
18. EJ Viso KV Dallara-Chevy 1m16.9920s Group 2
19. Charlie Kimball Ganassi Dallara-Honda 1m17.0078s Group 1
20. Oriol Servia Panther/DRR Dallara-Chevy 1m17.3906s Group 2
21. JR Hildebrand Panther Dallara-Chevy 1m17.5285s Group 1
22. Tony Kanaan KV Dallara-Chevy 1m17.5441s Group 2
23. Simona de Silvestro HVM Dallara-Lotus 1m17.9789s Group 1
24. Ed Carpenter Carpenter Dallara-Chevy 1m17.6918s Group 2
25. Mike Conway Foyt Dallara-Honda 1m18.8781s Group 2