On the day when he had to hand the No. 3 Penske back to Helio Castroneves, Will Power took the team's new No. 12 car to a stunning pole position at Long Beach.
Power, who had deputized for Castroneves during the Brazilian's tax evasion trial, is only confirmed in the third Penske entry for this weekend and Indianapolis, but advertised his potential in fine style in this afternoon's qualifying session.
He quickly took provisional pole in the decisive Fast Six session, and was able to withstand a late challenge from Ganassi's Dario Franchitti to take the top spot by a tenth of a second.
Power had spent Friday practice in Castroneves' car while the Brazilian's trial came to an end, but Penske had already prepared the Verizon Wireless-backed No. 12 in the event that Castroneves was exonerated and free to join the Long Beach field. Having topped second practice in the No. 3, Power picked up where he left off in his new car and has set himself up for a repeat of the victory he took in last year's Champ Car finale in Long Beach.
Rookie Raphael Matos took a superb third place for Luczo Dragon Racing in only his second IndyCar start, with EJ Viso joining him on the second row as the HVM driver produced his best qualifying performance yet.
Justin Wilson could not quite emulate his St Petersburg form, despite being fastest of all in part one of qualifying, but still reached the Fast Six and took fifth place ahead of reigning champion Scott Dixon (Ganassi).
Power outshone his full-time teammates and was the only Penske driver in the Fast Six session.
There would be no fairy-tale return for Castroneves, who spun into the Turn 1 wall at the end of round two and will start eighth, with St. Petersburg winner Ryan Briscoe back in 10th in the third Penske after sliding down the Turn 9 escape road a few minutes before Castroneves crashed.
St Petersburg pole-sitter Graham Rahal missed out on a Fast Six spot this time and will start seventh for Newman/Haas/Lanigan, while Alex Tagliani shrugged off poor practice form to get his cash-strapped Conquest team into the top 10 again in ninth.
It was another dreadful session for Andretti Green, as even lead driver Tony Kanaan failed to break into the top 10, ending up 11th. After his massive practice crash, Hideki Mutoh took his rebuilt car to 17th, while Marco Andretti was an off the pace 19th and Danica Patrick could only manage 22nd having spun at Turn 10 and removed her front wing on the barriers.
“We’re struggling to find the setup we need,” Kanaan said. “We need to step up our game and make the car better. The whole team is struggling to find speed.”
Other prominent departures in the first rounds of qualifying included Newman/Haas/Lanigan's Robert Doornbos, whose car cut out on its first run and could not muster sufficient speed once repaired, and Dreyer & Reinbold's Mike Conway. The British rookie was fastest for a while in the first round, but was pushed outside the top six cut-off in the frantic final moments.
This year’s race marks the first under the IndyCar banner after 25 consecutive years as a CART/Champ Car race.Pos Driver Team Time
1. Will Power Penske 1m09.7107s
2. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1m09.8675s
3. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon 1m10.2043s
4. EJ Viso HVM 1m10.2232s
5. Justin Wilson Dale Coyne 1m10.2680s
6. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1m10.4038s
7. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan 1m10.0283s
8. Helio Castroneves Penske 1m10.1139s
9. Alex Tagliani Conquest 1m10.1278s
10. Ryan Briscoe Penske 1m10.2126s
11. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green 1m10.3032s
12. Ryan Hunter-Reay Vision 1m10.4339s
13. Mario Moraes KV 1m10.8459s
14. Dan Wheldon Panther 1m10.5503s
15. Robert Doornbos Newman/Haas/Lanigan 1m10.9577s
16. Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold 1m10.6059s
17. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green 1m11.1177s
18. Darren Manning Dreyer & Reinbold 1m11.2411s
19. Marco Andretti Andretti Green 1m11.2307s
20. Vitor Meira Foyt 1m11.4487s
21. Stanton Barrett 3G 1m14.4863s
22. Danica Patrick Andretti Green 1m11.6660s
23. Ed Carpenter Vision 1m11.9069s