Will Power will lead the field to the green flag in the first of two IndyCar races this weekend.
Less than a week after the 99th Indianapolis 500, the Verizon IndyCar Series is back on a street course just a few hundred miles from Indianapolis, preparing for the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit. Held on the Belle Isle Park 2.35-mile, 14-turn temporary road course that abuts the Detroit River, this event comprises two races, one on Saturday afternoon and the other on Sunday.
There was a single Friday morning practice of an hour and 15 minutes to get the 23 entrants back into street-fighting mode, led by a pair of Ganassi drivers, Tony Kanaan and rookie Sage Karam. Kanaan, driving a No. 10 Chevrolet dressed in the livery of Big Machine Records’ Taylor Swift (a light blue design) and Karam, racing a No. 8 Chevy that highlights band Rascal Flatts led six Chevy drivers practicing under 1:17 seconds, Kanaan posting a lap of 1:16.2931 (110.888 mph) and Karam driving to 1:16.4935 (110.598).
Between practice and qualifying it rained - and rained hard - washing away any rubber accumulated during practice. The TUDOR United Sports Car Championship and Stadium Trucks all took on the drying circuit before it was time for three rounds of knock-out qualifying in mid-afternoon.
Newgarden hits the wall as Penske leads the way
Held under warm and sunny skies, qualifying was clean for the first group, which saw Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Sebastien Bourdais and Marco Andretti advance, leaving Graham Rahal and Kanaan seventh and eighth. The second group promoted Simon Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya, Karam, Scott Dixon and rookie Stefano Coletti, as James Jakes and Jack Hawksworth failed to make the second round. Josef Newgarden, who spun in Turn 13 in practice this morning, ended the second round of qualifying with another spin and contact at the same corner.
The second round saw Montoya on top, followed by his teammate Castroneves, Bourdais, Power, Sato and Pagenaud advance to the Firestone Fast Six, knocking out Dixon, Coletti, Andretti, Jakes, Vautier and Karam, in that order.
Firestone Fast Six was a four-driver competition until the final two minutes, when Power moved Castroneves, Montoya and Sato back in the order. The Australian and Frenchman Bourdais were the final two cars on the circuit, and only Bourdais was unable to make it into the 1:16 bracket.
Power took pole position, his third such accomplishment of the 2015 season and 39th overall (one behind Rocket Rick Mears for fifth in Indy car history), with his 1:16.0941 tour of the bumpy Belle Isle circuit. He easily beat Castroneves’ 2014 pole for the 2014 initial Dual (1:17.5362). Castroneves lies second at 1:16.1200 and Indy 500 winner Montoya is third with a lap of 1:16.4428, giving Team Penske the top three spots. Sato, the lone Honda driver in the final shootout came fourth at 1:16.5363, while Pagenaud took fifth (1:16.6656) and Bourdais finished sixth with his 1:17.0406 lap, one of only three he took in the final shootout.
Will Power hoping to stay out of trouble
Battling a loose car in the final episode of qualifying, Power was philosophical about today’s achievement, recognizing it’s a long weekend with another practice and qualifying session on the docket - as well as two races. “Yeah, it’s the pole but it’s a long race around here,” he said of each 70-lap contest. “Once again it’s about battling the teammates around here and we have all year. It’s been a great weekend and a really good start. We will try and keep ourselves out of trouble and see what magic we can do tomorrow.”
Castroneves had used tires in the second stint (unlike Power) and new in the final round, while Power was on the same set. “So that’s how amazing our car was. For being that close with tires that already had a run on them, it was absolutely amazing,” last year’s winner of the second Dual said. “I wanted that pole position pretty badly, so let’s go for the race tomorrow.”
In last year’s pair of races, Power won the first from 16th on the grid and Castroneves the second from third starting spot. Can they do it again in 2015 in Chevrolet’s home race? The weather gods might have something to say about that scenario, as showers are expected to begin tonight and continue - with thunderstorms predicted - through Saturday. Sunday is supposed to be clear and much cooler, which could throw everyone off their game.