Will Power left his rivals – and teammates – questioning where his speed came from in a dominant qualifying performance for the IZOD IndyCar Series Kentucky Indy 300.
Power, who has won seven poles on road and street courses in 2011, secured his first oval pole of the season and second of his career (Iowa, 2010 his first).
The Team Penske driver's two-lap average of 219.283 was nearly a full mph faster than second-placed Graham Rahal. The front row in Kentucky mirrors the front row in Baltimore, although once again Power set a demoralizing time that left Rahal in the dust.
“When we tested, our cars weren't as strong in traffic, but we did a few details to fix it,” Power said. “It's just a good start to the weekend.”
Rahal qualified fastest of the quartet of Ganassi cars at 218.348mph, the only driver in that range. Scott Dixon timed in seventh after leading both of the morning's practice sessions, with Charlie Kimball 10th just ahead of Dario Franchitti in 11th.
“That lap surprised all of us,” Rahal said. “We did 218.5 with a tow in practice, and thought we'd be where Dario and Scott's times when they set theirs. We took it easy on the tires for how cold it is.”
A host of surprises followed. James Hinchcliffe secured his best career qualifying position in third ahead of Ed Carpenter (Sarah Fisher Racing) and Hinchcliffe's rookie-of-the-year rival JR Hildebrand in the top five. Hildebrand's run is his first aboard the newly repainted "pink Panther" camouflage livery (ABOVE).
“I guess I'm feeding the stereotype by being a Canadian doing well in cold weather,” Hinchcliffe joked. “We peeled some extra downforce off and went the opposite of Oriol (Servia). So we were either going to be way better or way worse. We're super happy since 1.5s weren't our strengths after Texas.”
Marco Andretti posted his best start of the season in P6 ahead of Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Servia and Kimball.
Power's Penske teammates were thoroughly befuddled after their runs, and reacted rather differently. The last two drivers out, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe ran in the coolest temperatures of the evening and couldn't generate the power. Castroneves and Briscoe clocked in 16th and 18th respectively.
“It was an interesting qualifying,” Castroneves said. “The good news is we still have Will up front. We won with great strategy last year, let's go for it again.”
“To me, there's something wrong with the engine,” Briscoe said. “We're running the same as Will and were 2 or 3mph slower. I'm really confused, perplexed. The car feels solid, but it's just slow. It feels like a dog of an engine.”
Elsewhere Simona de Silvestro had her best ever oval start, P13, next to Danica Patrick on a very intriguing row seven. None of KV Racing Technology-Lotus's three cars qualified better than 19th. Dillon Battistini starts 25th for his IndyCar debut.
Dan Wheldon didn't qualify for Sam Schmidt, which raised a few eyebrows considering he'll now start in the back of the field two races running. Schmidt surmised it was a technical issue as the car didn't pass inspection, rather than give light to any conspiracy theories.
“They could have a field day with this, but (tech) said the backing plates were wrong,” Schmidt said. “It's pretty frustrating for everyone, we've had the same Dallara plates all year. One of the driving forces for him being here was to get Dan a good pit stall at Las Vegas from qualifying here. The consolation is good practice for Las Vegas, but this certainly isn't how we want to do it.”
It was an unfortunate qualifying session for Pippa Mann as well, who spun on cold tires exiting the pits and made light contact with the inside retaining wall at Turn 1. Unlike her pre-qualifying accident in New Hampshire, Mann should be able to start for Kentucky on Sunday.
Pos Driver Team Speed
1. Will Power Penske 219.283
2. Graham Rahal Ganassi 218.348
3. James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas 218.186
4. Ed Carpenter Sarah Fisher 218.004
5. JR Hildebrand Panther 217.872
6. Marco Andretti Andretti 217.807
7. Scott Dixon Ganassi 217.692
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 217.632
9. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas 217.520
10. Charlie Kimball Ganassi 217.357
11. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 217.213
12. Mike Conway Andretti 217.110
13. Simona de Silvestro HVM 216.924
14. Danica Patrick Andretti 216.768
15. Wade Cunningham Sam Schmidt 216.763
16. Helio Castroneves Penske 216.732
17. Buddy Rice Panther 216.685
18. Ryan Briscoe Penske 216.669
19. Tony Kanaan KV 216.484
20. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold 216.424
21. Vitor Meira Foyt 216.300
22. Takuma Sato KV 215.856
23. EJ Viso KV 215.789
24. Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne 215.607
25. Dillon Battistini Conquest 215.578
26. Townsend Bell Dreyer & Reinbold 215.404
27. James Jakes Dale Coyne 214.297
28. Dan Wheldon Sam Schmidt
29. Pippa Mann Rahal Letterman Lanigan