INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Team Penske is overpowering the competition in Indianapolis — again.
Now it’s looking to make some more history.
Defending series champ Will Power broke the Grand Prix of Indianapolis qualifying record twice Friday, completing the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in 1 minute, 9.4886 seconds to earn his second pole of the season. He beat Scott Dixon by 0.227 seconds and led a pack of four Penske cars that qualified in the top five for Saturday’s race in what could be the first step to pulling off the first May double.
“It’s a special track just because of where it is, right here,” Power said.
Roger Penske’s record at Indy is unrivaled. He has fielded cars that have won 15 Indianapolis 500s and 17 Indianapolis 500 poles, both records, now has his first road-course pole and is in prime position to start winning races on the newest course, too.
He got there in typical Penske fashion — by taking a risk.
Power set his first track record in the second of three rounds of qualifications by barely getting past defending race champion Simon Pagenaud in the closing seconds — on old tires. In the final round, Power switched to fresh Firestone red tires and surpassed that mark to hold off Target Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon, who will start second Saturday.
Power’s play paid off.
“We thought we would just take the chance, Tim (Cindric) said ‘This is Indianapolis and we’ve just got to go for it,'” Power said. “So, as a team, we just made the decision to take the risk. Worst case would be, you know, maybe sixth or seventh.”
Dixon, of New Zealand, made the same call in the second round and it nearly backfired.
He barely made the final round by nudging out France’s Sebastien Bourdais after time expired in the session. Drivers are allowed to finish their final lap if they start before the checkered flag comes out. Bourdais stayed in his cockpit during the break as his team asked for a replay review, contending Dixon’s last lap shouldn’t have counted.
The original decision was upheld, but Dixon could catch Power.
“We tried to get tricky and cute through there (the second round) and run the used reds,” Dixon said. “We needed another tenth, so it was a mad scramble. Definitely a nail biting situation. We knew we had the speed we just tried to see if we could get a bit tricky. Unfortunately, it bit us, we threw Power into doing the same thing.”
But Dixon did prevent a Penske sweep of the top four starting spots.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves will start third after going 1:09.7338, 2000 Indy 500 champion and points leader Juan Pablo Montoya will start fourth after clocking a 1:09.8072 and defending race winner Simon Pagenaud took the No. 5 starting spot after going 1:09.8715. Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner and the other Ganassi driver to make the final round, will start sixth.
Last year’s pole winner, Colombia’s Sebastian Saavedra, is starting eighth after missing the final round.
Perhaps none of this should have been a surprise.
Penske’s team has won all five poles this season — Castroneves, of Brazil, and Power, of Australia, have two each. Colombia’s Montoya won the other pole.
Chevrolet also continued its early season domination. The engine-manufacturer has won all five poles, three of the first four races this season and claimed 13 of the top 15 starting spots Friday including the top 10. England’s Jack Hawksworth of A.J. Foyt Racing was the only Honda driver to advance beyond the first round of qualifying. He’ll start 11th after posting a 1:10.4558.
But for Indy fans, Team Penske’s performance is a familiar tale.
He had the two fastest cars in Sunday’s opening day test on the 2.5-mile oval, four of the top six times in the first two road-course practices Thursday and four of the top six times in Friday morning’s practice and four of the top six in qualifying. And if Team Penske wins Saturday, they’ll be in position to start talking about pulling off the first double win in track history.
“It’s possible, it’s got to be the goal,” Power said. “My focus now is so much on the 500 more than it ever was now that I won a championship, but you can imagine winning the GP and the 500, it would be unbelievable. It would be huge.”
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