Will Power on pole for Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (Sun., 2:30 pm ET, NBCSN)

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Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Will Power will have the opportunity to continue his good start to 2014 from the pole position in tomorrow’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

The Team Penske driver’s time of 1:08.3120 in the Firestone Fast Six was enough to give him his first pole of the season. It bears noting that he won the first of his two Barber victories from the pole back in 2011.

“[Winning] is the only thing that counts for us, and a part of trying to win here is getting the pole,” he told the IMS Radio Network. “It definitely makes our job easier.

“…It’s going to be a tough race. When it goes green, these temperatures are going to be very physical. There will be a lot of traffic and a lot of marbles so we’ll do everything we can to get the win.”

Starting alongside him up front will be Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe, who secured his second consecutive front-row start thanks to his FF6 lap of 1:08.3409.

“This is a tough track to pass on and tires are going to be at a premium, so having a good starting spot is huge,” Hinchcliffe said.

Additionally, all four of the Andretti drivers will be starting within the Top 10 positions on the grid. Defending Barber champion Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified third, while rookie Carlos Munoz will go off seventh, and Marco Andretti shall begin from ninth.

However, an interesting subplot may be taking shape along Row 2 as Hunter-Reay will be joined there by Josef Newgarden, who qualified fourth.

Hunter-Reay and Newgarden’s contact two weeks ago during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach set off a major multi-car incident that also collected Hinchcliffe and several other drivers.

That said, Newgarden maintained that he’s moved on from the incident.

“When I looked at it, it was a sad opportunity that had happened,” he said in the post-qualifying presser. “Immediately, I wanted to go to the next one, like I think any racer would. I want to be up front again. You don’t just want one opportunity to finish well in a race.

“[It’s] no big deal. It’s racing. It happens. We’re here now and it’s turning the page for everybody.”

Scott Dixon, who has finished runner-up in each of the four IndyCar races at Barber, will be on the inside of Row 3 and flanked by Helio Castroneves, the series’ inaugural winner at this track back in 2010.

Among the key names that will have to start from the back after failing to advance out of the group stages are Justin Wilson (16th), Long Beach winner Mike Conway (21st), and Tony Kanaan (23rd and last in the field).

Qualifying Results

1. 12-Will Power
2. 27-James Hinchcliffe
3. 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay
4. 67-Josef Newgarden
5. 9-Scott Dixon
6. 3-Helio Castroneves
7. 34-Carlos Munoz (rookie)
8. 2-Juan Pablo Montoya
9. 25-Marco Andretti
10. 77-Simon Pagenaud
11. 7-Mikhail Aleshin (rookie)
12. 11-Sebastien Bourdais (penalized for interference; lost 2 fastest laps)
13. 17-Sebastian Saavedra
14. 14-Takuma Sato
15. 18-Carlos Huertas (rookie)
16. 19-Justin Wilson
17. 83-Charlie Kimball
18. 15-Graham Rahal
19. 16-Oriol Servia
20. 8-Ryan Briscoe
21. 20-Mike Conway
22. 98-Jack Hawksworth (rookie)
23. 10-Tony Kanaan

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.