Long Beach: Series qualifying report

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Saturday, April 18, 2009) -- Will Power won the PEAK Performance Pole Award at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, leading a group of three cars from Team Penske that will start the race in the top 10. Power, who won on the...

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Saturday, April 18, 2009) -- Will Power won the PEAK Performance Pole Award at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, leading a group of three cars from Team Penske that will start the race in the top 10.

Power, who won on the temporary street circuit a year ago in the final race sanctioned by Champ Car, will start from the first position in the first race at Long Beach sanctioned by the IndyCar Series. Power's first career pole in the IndyCar Series came on a day when he switched from the team's No. 3 car to the seat of the No. 12 car. Helio Castroneves returned to the No. 3 car for the first time since the end of the 2008 season and qualified eighth. The third Team Penske driver, St. Petersburg race winner Ryan Briscoe, qualified 10th.

Power lapped the 11-turn, 1.968-mile circuit in 1 minute, 9.7107 seconds, 101.631 mph to edge Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti by 0.1568 of a second. Rookie Raphael Matos qualified a career-best third, while second-year driver E.J. Viso qualified a career-best fourth. Justin Wilson, who won the pole last year at Long Beach and started on the front row at St. Petersburg, will start fifth. Reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon will start sixth.

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Team Penske representatives Roger Penske, Tim Cindric and Helio Castroneves met with the media at Long Beach to discuss Castroneves' return to the IndyCar Series following the conclusion of his court case. A complete transcript is posted at indycar.com/media.

ROGER PENSKE: "I think we won one of the biggest races that we've ever had to get Helio back in this car. As you know, we've stayed together as a team for many months. And we talked about this when it started and obviously stayed in contact as he went through the ordeal.

And I just have to say that I'm proud to see him be able to walk out and be able to get in the No. 3 car. It's amazing what happens in your life, and certainly Helio has gone through a chapter I'm sure he wants to close this book, this chapter in the book. But to me it's over. He's back where he wants to be. He's a great race car driver. He's been a great ambassador for our team. I've said to many people, he doesn't have a bad bone in his body. And to see him back here is just tremendous."

TIM CINDRIC: "I know yesterday when I was here, the question was asked whether or not we felt he was ready to go since he hadn't been in a car since October. And I told you I was 100 percent confident he was ready to go. As you can see from this morning, he was. He asked me, as we started up the engine and all the rest of it, he said, ‘Is this a dream?' I said, ‘No, it's reality. There's a lot of people watching so don't stall it.' So after that it was just like business as usual. It was like old times. So we're glad to see him back, and let's just go on to the next page."

HELIO CASTRONEVES: "It's been a very interesting situation and a mix of feelings, obviously. It feels like I just woke up from a nightmare. And to go through this with my family, it was very difficult. But the family, not only the family but the fans, they were amazing. As Roger said, so many people sent messages. So many people sent prayers through Facebook, through the Internet, through my website. And I tell you one thing: I never lost faith. Sometimes I questioned it a little bit, but those prayers that people were sending me, it kept me really strong. It kept me really focused. And without everybody, without those prayers, it would have been very difficult to go through what I did."

(About being back in the car today): "I never felt so comfortable being here in my entire life. Just sitting in the car -- actually, I was early getting in the car (for the practice this morning). I normally go wait for the last minute, but this time I just wanted to be in the car. And oh, man, it was just awesome, the first few laps. I was smiling through my helmet, looking for every detail. I feel like I want to hug everybody today."

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PEAK PERFORMANCE POLE QUALIFYING NOTES:

* Will Power won the PEAK Performance Pole Award. It is his first career pole in the IndyCar Series. His previous best start came at St. Petersburg in 2008.

* Power is the third driver to jump from sixth to first during the Firestone Fast Six segment. Helio Castroneves did it at Mid-Ohio in 2007, and Ryan Briscoe did it at Edmonton in 2008.

* This is the 42nd pole for Team Penske in the IndyCar Series.

* Dario Franchitti qualified second. He has participated in the Firestone Fast Six in both races. This will be his 13th consecutive top-five start in the IndyCar Series dating back to Texas 2007.

* Raphael Matos qualified a career-best third. His previous best start was ninth in his first career start at St. Petersburg.

* Third is best starting position for Luczo Dragon Racing. The team's previous best was fourth at Kansas in 2008 with Tomas Scheckter.

* E.J. Viso qualified a career-best fourth. His previous best was ninth at Belle Isle in 2008. Fourth is also the best starting position for HVM Racing.

* Justin Wilson qualified fifth, his second consecutive top-five start to begin the season.

* Scott Dixon qualified sixth, his 17th consecutive top-10 start, the longest active streak in the IndyCar Series.

* Five teams had drivers qualify for the Firestone Fast Six.

* Ryan Briscoe did not qualify in the Firestone Fast Six for the first time since Mid-Ohio 2007. Beginning with St. Petersburg in 2008, Briscoe had participated in seven consecutive Firestone Fast Six sessions.

* Briscoe's overall streak of seven consecutive top-five starts, the longest active streak, also was broken.

* Briscoe qualified 10th, his 10th consecutive top-10 start.

* This is the 18th Firestone Fast Six session since the format was introduced in 2005. This is the first time that at least one of the two drivers, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, haven't qualified for the session. Castroneves and Kanaan have each participated in 15 Firestone Fast Six sessions. Castroneves missed Watkins Glen 2008 and St. Petersburg 2009, while Kanaan missed Edmonton 2008 and Belle Isle 2008.

* This was the first time Raphael Matos and E.J. Viso qualified for the Firestone Fast Six. Twenty-two drivers have participated in the 18 Firestone Fast Six sessions.

***

INDYCAR SERIES POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Team Verizon Wireless, first): "It was obvious in the first session that you had to use reds (tires) to get through. So it was a matter of saving your reds a little bit and saving your energy to the final round. That's sort of what I did. I saved my big lap until the end. A great job by the team. They had to swap everything over on this car, with an all new crew, new engineer and everything. They did a good job. We're looking to have a strong race tomorrow and hopefully move up in the championship."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, second): "I'm happy to be back at Long Beach. I love the track. I love the atmosphere. There's such a buzz about the place all week. The balance of the Target car was really good there at the end. I was just trying to get a clear lap. You run to the limit so much here in qualifying. We had a really good lap going, and I ran out of fuel in Turn 9. Starting second's not bad. It's better than fifth at St. Pete. And the Target team did a great job rebuilding the car after I had a little indiscretion this morning. So I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 2 US Air Force Luczo Dragon Racing, third): "I've got to give all the credit to the boys here on the Luczo Dragon team. It was a great comeback from St. Pete. We had a huge wreck in St. Pete, and the guys put the car back together. I've got to thank the whole team. They did an awesome job. I also want to thank our sponsors, McAfee, the Air Force and the Marines. I want to thank all of the people who have been helping us and supporting our program. It's been just an amazing year for us."

E.J. VISO (No. 13 PDVSA HVM Racing, fourth): "It was a great day. The tires were good. Everything happened as we expected. We've had very good pace on this track since we came here. Things didn't come together in St. Pete, but hopefully it will happen here in Long Beach. So far the team performance has been great, and I'm very proud to be in my second season with this team."

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 18 Z-Line Designs, fifth): "We gave it all we had today but came up a bit short for the No. 18 Z-Line Designs/Dale Coyne Racing team. I think we used the red stripes a bit too early in the second session and really had nothing left for the last run."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, sixth): "We were trying to put on another set of tires, and it didn't really work out the way we wanted it to. The set we were trying to put on wasn't what the Target boys had, and we were going to put on a flat-spotted set of tires, so it was kind of chaos in the pits there. It's disappointing. Qualifying is so important on road and street courses and we had a chance to start up front. We just didn't make the most of the chance."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 02 McDonald's Racing Team, seventh): "It's obviously disappointing that we didn't make it through to the Firestone Fast Six. After putting the McDonald's car on pole at the last race, we had expectations of making it to the last round. I think we had the pace to do it but weren't able to. We had pretty much the same pace on old tires as we did on new. You expect to have a big gain on new ones, but we had nothing when everybody else gained quite a bit. That's how it goes sometimes. We have our work cut out for us tomorrow starting seventh, because it's not easy to pass here. Our hope is that the car stays underneath us and we can move up through the field. We're pretty good on old tires, which bodes well for us, but we've got to hope we can save fuel better than these other guys and get by them in the pits."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, eighth): "It was a good day for us until the end of qualifying. Unfortunately, I pushed it a little bit too much trying to get into the top six and I overdid it. I'm obviously very happy for Will Power; he did an incredible job jumping from the No. 3 car to the No. 12 car. Winning the pole today really shows how tough of a competitor he is. It's great to be back out here at the track. My crew has been smiling all day and so have I. I think that even though we had an incident this afternoon we feel good for the race tomorrow. This is not going to hurt us, it's just going to build us even stronger and tomorrow is another day."

ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 34 Conquest Racing, ninth): "The Conquest team did a great job today. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino/The Joint car was good. Unfortunately we had a small electrical problem this morning that cost us some track time. Before qualifying, we made some changes and we made a few more adjustments during the first round, which allowed us to make it to Round 2. We'll be starting ninth tomorrow, and considering the small problems we had it's pretty good. I'm happy with how qualifying went, but we'll keep working tonight on the car, and hopefully we can have a good race tomorrow and fight for a podium."

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, 10th): "I'm disappointed to not have been in the Firestone Fast Six today, but that's the way it goes sometimes. I thought the Team Penske car was pretty good for qualifying. We were running well, but when we put on the red tires in that second session, we lost the balance of the car. It's frustrating, but now we've got to focus on the race tomorrow. We're just going to keep moving forward, and hopefully we can get another win under our belts."

***

SUNDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local):

8:40-9:10 a.m. IndyCar Series practice
12:30 p.m. Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach pre-race
1:30 p.m. Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (85 laps/167.28)

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Justin Wilson , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Ryan Briscoe , Chip Ganassi , Will Power , Roger Penske , Dale Coyne
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , HVM Racing , Dragon Racing , Conquest Racing