Surprise Long Beach pole-winner Will Power said he knew from the start of practice that he would be right on the pace in Penske's new third car.
The Australian had to take a back seat at Team Penske when Helio Castroneves's tax evasion trial ended on Friday. After surrendering the No. 3 Penske Dallara-Honda to Castroneves on Saturday morning, Power moved to a third Penske entry and promptly won the pole position.
His time of 1m09.7107s was 0.1568 seconds better than Ganassi's Dario Franchitti, who tried to top Power's lap in the final minutes of the Fast Six qualifying session but could not.
Power, who won last year's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach when it was run to Champ Car rules, said he had been slightly concerned about changing cars in the middle of a race weekend – until he saw how good the new car was.
"I was a little worried this morning, but then I saw how these guys prepared things and I wasn't worried anymore," Power said. "I was right not to be, because the car was good. We ironed out a couple of bumps in the morning session, but it was great for qualifying. I'm sure it will be the same tomorrow in the race."
While Castroneves' sudden appearance became the story of the weekend, Power quietly switched cars and uniforms and stole the show.
"When I came into the pits during the first practice session Friday, Tim [Cindric, Penske Racing's president] told me over the radio that Helio had been acquitted and was on his way," Power explained. "At that point I thought, 'OK, I'm going to be changing cars.'"
Power was moved to Penske's new No. 12 car for Sunday's race and the Indianapolis 500 in May. Team owner Roger Penske said before qualifying that he did not plan to run the car next weekend at Kansas Speedway, even though a win by Power on Sunday would put him near the lead in the IndyCar Series standings.
"That's a question for Roger and Tim," Power said with a smile. "I'm just going to go out there and do my best."
Castroneves returned to the team after he was acquitted of six tax evasion charges on Friday afternoon in a federal trial in Miami. He crashed during the second qualifying segment and complained of a headache afterwards.
IndyCar officials said there was no evidence of a concussion, but Castroneves will be re-evaluated on Sunday morning. If he is OK he will start eighth in Sunday's race.
"It was a good day for us until the end of qualifying," Castroneves said. "Unfortunately, I pushed it a little bit too much trying to get into the top-six and I overdid it."
Current championship leader Ryan Briscoe was the slowest of the Penske trio today, taking only 10th place on the grid.
"We were running well, but when we put on the red tyres in that second session, we lost the balance of the car," Briscoe said. "It's frustrating, but now we've got to focus on the race tomorrow. We're just going to keep moving forward and hopefully we can get another win under our belts."