Joe Jennings, IndyCar correspondent
Briscoe sets IndyCar pole record at Long Beach; Franchitti and Newgarden gain front row
Ryan Briscoe and his Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet topped all IZOD IndyCar Series qualifiers at Long Beach on Saturday afternoon with a record run of 103.264 miles per hour around the demanding 11-turn Long Beach street course. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach marks the third race of the IZOD IndyCar Series season.
Even though the quiet Australian gained his 12th IndyCar pole, he will be forced to start the 85-lap race from the 11th starting spot due to a 10-spot penalty for changing engines, a change mandated by Chevrolet after discovering a potential problem with one of more of its engines after a test at Sonoma earlier this week.
We are doing the best with a situation and we just have to see what we can make of it in the race.
As announced earlier, Chevrolet opted to change engines in the 11 cars for which it provides power. According to the rule book, changing engines before reaching the minimum mileage threshold of 1,850 miles triggers a 10-spot penalty on the starting grid at Long Beach.
Said Briscoe about the pole, “It was a trouble-free run with no mistakes. The car was really nice and I felt the balance kept improving. I am proud of my guys; they just keep improving on the cars. When you unload fast, it shows the preparations that go on back home. I am proud of Team Penske.”
Regarding the penalty, he added, “It bites. We just have to go with it and trust Chevrolets judgment with the decision. We are doing the best with a situation and we just have to see what we can make of it in the race. The important thing to us is that we know we have fast cars.”
Team Penske has chalked up three consecutive poles in 2012 and has taken the pole 23 times out of the last 37 races. This is the team’s 206th pole in open-wheel racing and the 415th all-time pole across all levels of racing.
Will Power qualified second fastest at 103.116 mph in the Verizon Team Penske, giving the acclaimed team its 77th 1-2 start in history.
“It was a good battle in the Fast Six, and I gave it everything I had,” Power stated. “Qualifying was important as we didn’t want to start 16th or so. We just have to make the best out of the situation. Days like tomorrow are important toward the championship; we just have to get as many points as we can get.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2010 race winner, qualified third fastest at 103.102 mph. “It was okay today. With only one session and two laps here and there, it was hard to know what we could get out of the car. But I am tired of being a couple hundredths off to the Penske guys. I definitely wanted the pole in spite of the penalty, and I thought today was as good of a chance that I had ever had.”
At 102.630 mph, Dario Franchitti qualified fourth fastest but will advance to the pole as he was the fastest driver without a penalty to deal with. The Scotsman drives the Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Said Franchitti, “Being in the Fast Six was good and shows that we are making progress. Today we were much better than we were at St. Pete; my run was fairly straight-forward. The car felt good. I would have liked to have had a go at the pole, as we wanted to earn it. While I don’t agree with the rules, those are the rules and there are reasons they are in place.”
Regarding the race, the IndyCar champion stated, “It will be a battle and should be a very interesting race.”
E. J. Viso qualified fifth fastest at 102.630 mph and James Hinchcliffe earned sixth fastest at 102.635 mph.
The first six qualifiers broke Will Power’s year-old record of 102.582 mph.
Josef Newgarden qualified seventh in the unsponsored Honda-powered car of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and he will advance to the outside of the front row, jumping ahead of the five Chevrolet-powered cars ahead of him on the time sheets.
The articulate Tennessee driver got everyone’s attention when he won out in his group’s qualifying session, besting Power among others. But in round two of qualifications, he ended up in the seventh spot, being bumped on the last lap of the session.
“I probably don’t deserve to be here, as I am starting on the front row by default,” he said of his first IndyCar start at Long Beach. “This is a position we have not been in yet, and when you start farther back in the field, you have to have a different style of driving. The name of the game is to try and maintain it and race smooth. When you get opportunities in racing like this, you have to take advantage of them. No one remembers why you started on the front row; they only remember how you finish on Sunday.
“We have a great car and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing is an unbelievable group. I cannot say enough good about them, and they deserve all the respect they can get. We have a great package and have to make the most out of it. I would like to get by Dario (Franchitti) early. As a rookie, he may not expect me to pass him. It will be an interesting race.”
Qualifying behind Newgarden was Helio Castroneves, Justin Wilson and Tony Kanaan. Wilson is the lone Honda driver in this group.
Honda drivers Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato, Mike Conway and Graham Rahal qualified 11th to 15th but they will move forward for the race, starting behind Franchitti, Newgarden and Wilson with the Chevrolet drivers ahead of them falling back due to the 10-spot penalties.
Charlie Kimball (Honda) and Alex Tagliani (Lotus) will advance to the ninth and 10th positions.
Twenty-six cars will start the 85-lap race around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street course.
The NBC Sports Network will telecast the race starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.