Allan Brewer, IndyCar Correspondent
Team Penske claims the top three starting positions
Team Penske’s Will Power ran away to his sixth IndyCar pole of the 2011 season, pacing teammates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves at Infineon Raceway on Saturday to a 1-2-3 sweep of the top spots on the starting grid.
Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon qualified fourth and fifth, with James Hinchcliffe of Newman/Haas Racing picking up the final spot in the definitive 10-minute Fast Six session.
The pole is important because it’s tough to pass here, and a Penske 1-2-3 is great up there ahead of the red cars (of Ganassi Racing).
Power’s mark of 1:18.6017 (105.479 mph) was almost half a second quicker than the chasers. “I knew we had to have a quick lap to win pole, and we did it,” said Power, “The pole is important because it’s tough to pass here, and a Penske 1-2-3 is great up there ahead of the red cars (of Ganassi Racing).”
Power will lead the 28-car field on Sunday afternoon toward a scheduled 75-lap tour of this 2.3-mile natural terrain road course over the gentle brown hills of Sonoma County in the California wine country.
Power was the pole sitter (108.337 mph) and the winner of this race in 2010. His previous poles of the current season include street and road courses at St Petersburg, Brazil, Barber Motorsports Park, Long Beach, and Toronto.
Castroneves put a season mostly significant for frustration into his rearview mirror with a lap of 1:19.0916 (104.825 mph) to take the position alongside Power on the outside of the front row. Briscoe’s 1:19.1112 (104.799 mph) completed the Penske takeover at the top of timing and scoring.
“It was a good achievement from our point of view,” said Briscoe. “We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.”
Franchitti mulled his 1:19.1464 (104.753 mph) as one of lost opportunity. “We worked hard to get the balance on the red tires, but we never got it right,” said Franchitti. “In fact, it actually made the car worse. We have some work to do before race day.”
Franchitti owns the track record at Sonoma with a mark of 1:16.4792 (2010).
Teammate Dixon posted a best lap of 1:19.3892 (104.432 mph).
James Hinchcliffe made his first appearance ever in the Fast 6, and ended the day with a lap of 1:19.4546 (104.346 mph). “As a rookie you try to get better every week, and I think we’re showing that,” he said. “It’s a super-competitive series, and it’s all about making gains every second of every weekend. The changes we made worked and I’m pleased to be here for the first time.”
Will Power earned one championship point for his performance, shortening slightly his 47 point deficit behind Franchitti who remains in the lead for the series overall title.
Among other qualifiers, Dreyer & Reinbold’s Ana Beatriz turned in her most impressive performance of the season with a strong run to the 10th starting grid position, while teammate Giorgio Pantano (filling in for the injured Justin Wilson) picked up the eleventh spot.
The race will be broadcast live on television on Sunday at 4PM EDT on VERSUS network. It will also be broadcast live on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway radio network and internet stream.