INDIANAPOLIS — Will Power is no stranger to poles in the NTT INDYCAR Series. The Team Penske driver has now earned 64 of them in his career which is now 3 shy of tying Mario Andretti for most all-time. It’s a record that Power is staunchly after. The pole record was a feat that Power was on a fast pace to notch. However, as the competition level grew more and more over the years, it’s also one that felt like it was getting deeper and deeper in the windshield.
“It has become incredibly hard to get poles,” said Power after scoring his 6th here on the IMS road course. “It’s just a different guy each week who gets it all together, so it is hard.
“It’s hard to get more than two a year. Two or three you would be doing a good job. Yep, we’ll keep chipping away. Don’t really think about it all that much. I just try to do the best I can, and I know it’s there. I know there’s that record there, but honestly, I feel pretty blessed to have got so close. I never expected to get that close, but, yeah. To be amongst Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt in pole records is something I never expected.
“I’m going to say to put a really good lap together in this series there is just so much that goes into it before you even get in the car or just throughout practice and everything before you even get to qualifying, and then it’s up to you to really dig deep and put it together.
“But, yeah, I mean, I originally early in my days I used to say anyone can learn to do this, but after 20 years of high-level driving or more, I don’t believe that anymore. I think you have to have some sort of fire in the belly, which you see so many drivers have that in this series now. You see it in Formula 1 and in every series. Just some guys have that whatever it is in them and some don’t.
“The people that don’t may be exceptional in another area, but, yeah, it’s everything about looking at data and the video and putting all that in your mind, but then when it comes down to the nitty gritty, you’ve got to put it together, and it takes a lot of everything to do that.”
This was only Power’s 8th pole in his last 50 starts. He had 13 in his previous 50 and 36 total in his first 7 years in the sport. With the last few being harder and harder to come by, does he cherish these more now than he did before?
“I do, yes,” Power told me. “Yes, I really, really enjoy them. I know that you don’t even know if you’ll get another one, so you’ve got to be — any win or anything I get in this series now I feel very bless and happy to have got it because it’s tough. Obviously, I’m not 20 anymore either. Yep, got to keep digging.”
The Aussie was the final qualifier of the day on a sun filled hot afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Alex Palou just set the top time of the Firestone Fast Six session of 1:09.8090-seconds in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda. Power, was the last car that was set to hit the timing line and while he didn’t know the number he needed to it, he figured he was in the realm of it.
He held his head down and went after it.
“I did my absolute best and put it all together and didn’t know where it would stack up,” Power said. “I just knew it was not that far off my quickest time on new tires. I thought it was a pretty good time to have done on used tires. So, yeah, it was a good lap.”
The Chevy power prevailed with Power becoming the 5th different pole winner in 5 races run. For Palou, he says that while he’s the only Honda driver represented up front with having 6 Chevrolet’s make up the top 7 of Saturday’s starting lineup, he notes that he didn’t have any problems with his Honda power in qualifying.
“That’s good, right?” he told me. I” was not lacking power today. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be up there. Yeah, I don’t know. It works that way here, but it was working the other way some other races. So, yeah, I’m happy being up there and being able to fight.”
Palou, was quickest in the morning session and P2 in session 2. He has now qualified in the Fast 6 in each of his last 4 Indy road course starts.
In the case of Power, this was his 6th pole on the IMS road course with 4 of his previous poles seeing him wind up in victory lane.
The Team Penske driver led led 56 of 85 laps last August here in a victory while also leading all 75 laps in the 2020 Harvest Grand Prix (race 2). Can he pick up another victory in Saturday afternoon’s GMR Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)?
He may sit 4th in points at the moment, but he’s the only driver in the series with a top 4 result in all 4 races run this year too and now with a pole, Power feels like he’s driving as good now as ever before.
“Yeah, I’m right there,” he told me. “Right there. It’s so competitive these days. You can’t leave anything to chance. You can’t just rock up.
“Like I said, before you ever even get to the race track let alone qualifying for the race, there’s just so much that has gone into it with simulated time, video, data, and analysis. It’s endless.
“Yeah, I’m there with a lot more experience. I’m still as quick as I was. I just have so much more available if my toolbox.”
Josef Newgarden (1:09.8343-seconds) starts third in his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet for his 4th Fast 6 appearance here in the last 6 tries. Conor Daly had an impressive run to 4th in his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet (1:09.9063-seconds) while the Arrow McLaren SP teammates of Pato O’Ward (1:10.0546-seconds) and Felix Rosenqvist (1:10.0605-seconds) rounded out the Fast 6.
Heck Of A Penske Rebound
I wrote entering the week that Team Penske would be the ones to watch this weekend. At one point, this race was dubbed “The Penske Grand Prix.” Heading into the 2020 season, Penske drivers had won this race in 5 of the 6 years that it was around including having every winner of it under their umbrella (Simon Pagenaud won the inaugural race for SPM in 2014). This season, they are 3-for-4 and with how well they’ve looked, I thought watch out.
Then, after 2 practice sessions, they looked sort of pedestrian. Power was 3rd and 10th respectively in practice. Scott McLaughlin was 17th and 11th while Josef Newgarden was 16th quick in each session.
Then, they go out and put all 3 cars in the second round of quals with 2 of the 3 in the Fast 6.
5 of the final 7 races to 2021 saw the winner come from the top 3 starting spots. 8 of the 11 races run here have also seen the winner come from the top 2 Rows. Penske has 2 of the top 3 starters….
Where’s Andretti and Ganassi
Outside of Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing has sort of been an afterthought this weekend.
Ganassi went 1st (Palou), 6th (Marcus Ericsson), 13th (Scott Dixon) and 24th (Jimmie Johnson) in session 1. They were only 2nd (Palou), 13th (Ericsson), 20th (Dixon) and 27th (Johnson). They qualified 2nd (Palou), 18th (Ericsson), 21st (Dixon) and 27th (Johnson).
Ericsson has 3 top 10’s in 4 starts here but no top 5’s. For Dixon, he has 1 win in his last 26 series starts and his finishes since his win here in July 2020? 9th, 8th, 9th and 17th respectively. He’s qualified 12th, 15th, 16th and 26th in his last 4 tries too.
Andretti Autosport wasn’t really found on Friday either. Romain Grosjean was their best starter in 10th but he was only 12th and 6th respectively in practice. Colton Herta failed to get out of the first round and will start 14th. He qualified 4th, 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 8th and 5th in his 6 previous IMS road course starts.
Alexander Rossi will start 1 row behind in 16th. He was 15th and 17th respectively in practice and now has his worst starting spot here since 2019. Devlin DeFrancesco will roll off 17th.
Honda vs. Chevy
Honda looked outclassed so far this season. They’re 0-for-4 in victories while allowing Chevrolet to lead 79% of the laps thus far too. Here on the IMS road course, the bowties have 6 of the top 7 starters and are on a track to where they’ve won 9 of the last 10 at including 4 straight.
Chevy, dominated the series when they came back in 2012. However, with the UAK coming out in 2018, Honda turned the tide to close the gap. In 2018, Honda won 11 times compared to Chevy’s 6. 2019 went back to Chevy (9-8) but the two tied in 2020 (7-7). Last year, it was 9-7 in favor of Honda with Chevy now leading 4-0 in 2022.
In the three year span of the Aerokits from 2015 through 2017, it was Chevy 34, Honda 15. With the same car this time around, it’s Honda 35, Chevrolet 32.
Daly/Ilott/Lundgaard/Harvey Sleepers To Watch
Conor Daly has had pace here. This was his 3rd straight top 8 qualifying effort on the IMS road course. His problem has been Lap 1. He keeps getting ran over. This time though, he’s starting higher up than he’s ever before here. Does that help? He hopes so.
Daly makes no qualms about that this car with the Aeroscreen hasn’t been to his liking. He can’t get a full handle of it. However, here at Indy, for some reason he can.
The other thing is Ed Carpenter Racing has always put together some good qualifying cars here as well. Both he and VeeKay qualified in the top 10 in both races a year ago. VeeKay in fact won this very race from 7th. In 2020, VeeKay won the pole in the Harvest Grand Prix Race 1 and finished 5th in the GMR Grand Prix. In 2019, the 20 car qualified 5th from Ed Jones. In 2018, Jordan King qualified it 5th.
Daly, knows what’s at stake and knows he has a prime opportunity ahead.
So does a pair of series rookies. Callum Ilott was in the top 10 in all 3 practice sessions at the Barber Motorsports Park. He was P2 in session 1 here. He now starts 7th in his No. 77 Dallara-Chevrolet. What a sleeper to watch.
Don’t sleep on Christian Lundgaard either. He made his debut here last August and is the only track that he’s seen on the schedule. He qualified 4th in that race and after being 5th in session 2 on Friday afternoon, he qualified his No. 30 Dallara-Honda in 8th.
Among the top 5 in the starting lineup is 4 drivers in the current top 5 in points.