Joe Jennings, IndyCar Correspondent
Will Power displayed his championship driving form as he solidly whipped the field during IZOD IndyCar Series qualifications on the Baltimore street course. The qualifications set the stage for the start of Sunday’s Grand Prix of Baltimore. For the talented driver, he scored his fifth pole of the season and the 29th of his impressive career. He drove the Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet fielded by Roger Penske’s legendary organization.
A year ago, Power started on the pole and won the race, and today’s pole tied him with Dario Franchitti for eighth on the all-time list.
(Rain) would really mix up the strategies, what tires to be on. We’ll take it as it comes.
After a rough start to the weekend due to rough railroad tracks that were getting cars airborne, track officials installed a chicane during the night-time hours. The purpose of the chicane was to slow the cars on the fastest part of the street course, minimizing their chances of lifting off the ground as they did on Friday.
Although a brief rain shower hampered Saturday morning’s practice session, the 25 IndyCar teams did get an hour of track time preceding the timed runs at mid-day. Overall, the drivers were mostly complimentary of the track revisions, although they were still concerned with the severe bumps in certain areas.
Speeds were up over the 2011 edition of the Grand Prix with every qualifier breaking Power’s year-old record. When the dust settled, Power sat atop the standings with a speed of 111.116 miles per hour around the 2.0-mile, 12-turn street course.
Said Power about his run, “With minimal time on the track, I was determined to get the pole and gain another point toward the championship. Starting up front lowers your percentage of getting involved in an incident on the first lap. Now with that out of the way, we can focus on tomorrow.”
With rain in Sunday’s forecast, Power said the proceedings would then be subject to change. “(Rain) would really mix up the strategies, what tires to be on. We’ll take it as it comes. Until it rains here, you don’t know it’s here.”
Asked about his success at Baltimore he added, “Driving for Penske is the biggest thing and you get the best equipment. If you’re not on the pole or winning, you will probably lose your job. You know, it’s expected (you should win).”
Driving the ABC Supply Co./A. J. Foyt Racing Honda, Mike Conway equaled his best IndyCar start ever with the second fastest qualification speed of 110.881 mph but he crashed on the last lap after smacking the wall hard near the chicane. Also, he will start 12th tomorrow due to an unapproved engine change. “We didn’t really change anything on the car, just working on getting around the track,” he said. “The challenge is the chicane and I crashed when I tried to get a little more out of it. It is a bit annoying to have the penalty for the engine change and will make our day tomorrow more of a challenge.”
Scott Dixon turned the third fastest speed of 110.431 mph driving the Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Said the New Zealand native, “It has been a strange couple of days, and we didn’t run at all in the first session. When we did get out, the car felt decent but we are lacking a little grip. In the first qualifying segment, we only did one out-lap. It wasn’t a bad day, but we still have a little work to do on the car. I think the car will be better tomorrow, and hopefully they can change parts of the track to make it a little more consistent.”
Regarding his outlook on the race for the championship, he said his team is after race wins.
Sebastien Bourdais registered the fourth fastest speed of 109.923 mph in the TrueCar Dragon Racing Chevrolet. Bourdais continues to recover from a hard crash at Sonoma a week ago and indicated he is still hurting from that impact.
“I wish I wasn’t bouncing (around) so much. It would hurt less,” said Bourdais, reflecting on his injuries. “It was a pretty bad accident, and I got a very big hit inside the car. I’m physically pretty hurt right now, so I don’t know how that will affect me tomorrow. My hats off to the boys for giving me a great car, and hopefully we can put it together tomorrow.”
Said Dario Franchitti about his fifth position, “It is the luck of the draw as to which group you qualify with, and we were lucky to make it through the first (qualifying) segment. It is difficult here as bumpy as the place is and now with this chicane you can gain 3 or 4/10ths (of a second), it is daunting to put a lap together. That’s part of the challenge of a street course, and we are still learning.” He also thought the chicane on the backstretch needed to be repaired or altered prior to Sunday’s race.
James Hinchcliffe earned the sixth starting spot and was pleased with the outcome. “We’ve had a bit of a bad performance (lately) and some of it was self-induced and some bad luck,” he said. “We had a bit of interesting day yesterday dealing with the things you have to deal with on a street circuit. And now we have a circuit that is pretty close to being able to race on. With the limited practice that we had, we are pretty pleased with what we have come up with, and I am happy to be in the top six.”
Charlie Kimball, Tony Kanaan, Justin Wilson and newcomer Bruno Junqueira rounded out the top-10 qualifiers.
Championship contender Ryan Hunter-Reay had an off day and qualified 13th.
Crash victims were E. J. Viso, J. R. Hildebrand and Graham Rahal.
Rahal’s accident also occurred near the railroad tracks and his car did get airborne. He hit each curb in the chicane and came down on the tracks.
Sunday’s 200-mile Grand Prix of Baltimore will be telecast live by the NBC Sports Network at 2 p.m. ET.
In addition to Conway, Takuma Sato, Junqueira and Simon De Silvestro will be penalized 10 starting positions due to engine changes.