Allan Brewer, IndyCar Correspondent
Team Penske’s Will Power won pole on Saturday evening for the Kentucky Indy 300 with a two-lap average over the 1.5 mile oval course in Sparta, Kentucky of 219.283 mph. Power, who came into the weekend leading the season’s championship race by 11 points, also picked up one additional point for winning pole position. “I just race to win every weekend,” he said. “Last year (in which Power finished second in the championship) was a great teaching tool. I’ve gotten better on ovals this year.”
Graham Rahal in the No. 38 Service Central Ganassi Racing car (218.348 mph) took the spot on the outside of the first row alongside Power. “The car felt real good the whole time,” he said. “I was actually shocked at it. The team did a fantastic job. I’m looking forward to the race tomorrow.”
“I just race to win every weekend.
Rookie James Hinchcliffe of Newman/Haas Racing will start third on a qualifying speed of 218.186 mph. “We rolled the dice on our setup,” said Hinchcliffe. “We figured we’d be all right with less down force and it worked out. I’m happy for our team. It was a great effort.”
Sarah Fisher Racing’s Ed Carpenter qualified fourth on a speed of 218.004 mph, followed in 5th by Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand (217.872 mph).
Hildebrand won a slight advantage in qualifying when the sun briefly emerged to warm the track approximately twenty minutes into the qualifying period. “I have confidence that I’ll have good equipment and I’m excited to be here with Panther,” he said, “which has a great record at Kentucky.”
Marco Andretti qualified in sixth position for Andretti Autosport with an average speed over three miles of 217.807 mph. “We knew we had a quick car from the test here,” he said, “and we proved it today. Hopefully it will carry over tomorrow to the race.”
Andretti was followed by Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon who posted a mark of 217.692 mph. “We did the best we could,” said Dixon who is now 60 points behind Power in the championship points standings despite winning two weeks ago on the road course at Motegi, Japan. “The conditions were tough today. We’ll be looking for a good run tomorrow.”
Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay (217.632 mph), Newman/Haas’ Oriol Servia (217.520 mph) and Novo Nordisk Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball (217.357 mph) round out the first ten for the 2:45 PM EDT start on Sunday. “We had a good test here and we’re headed in the right direction,” said Hunter-Reay. “We’re concentrating on the race tomorrow.”
Dixon’s Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti was slowed by an engine change after early practice and came home a disappointing eleventh on the starting grid at 217.213 mph. “We changed engines and I’m a little disappointed in the speed,” he said. “We’ll have to try harder tomorrow (in the race).”
The Sam Schmidt Motorsports car driven by Dan Wheldon failed to pass technical inspection and defaulted on its qualifications run. The result will put Wheldon at the back of the field, in the same position from which he will start the season-ending IndyCar Championship race in Las Vegas two weeks hence.
Pippa Mann once again failed to get into qualifying mode as her No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan car made contact with the inside wall of Turn 3 on the warm-up lap. She will start the 200-lap race from the rear of the field of 29 cars adjacent Wheldon.
Drivers chose greater down force over higher speed in light of cooler temperatures on Saturday in the Bluegrass State. The temperature stood at 54 degrees Fahrenheit at the 6 PM EDT start of qualifications. The forecast for race day Sunday is clear and sunny skies with a high temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
Through two practice sessions on Saturday, Dixon was the quickest with a best lap of 220.486 mph.
Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, starting sixteenth, is the defending race winner at Kentucky. Team Penske has won the past two races (Castroneves in 2010, Ryan Briscoe in 2009).