Power on pole in Penske top-four sweep of St. Petersburg qualifying

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ST. PETERSBURG – Will Power continued his weekend dominance to date with a new track record and the opening Verizon P1 Award of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Power, who scored four consecutive St. Petersburg poles from 2010 to 2013, won last year after starting fourth.

He dropped a 1:00.6931 in the Firestone Fast Six to lead yet another session on the weekend and secure the pole position in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, as all four of Roger Penske’s cars made it into the Fast Six, and then completed a sweep of the front two rows.

The order behind him included his teammate Simon Pagenaud, second on debut for the team, 2014 race winners Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, and past St. Petersburg polesitters Takuma Sato and Sebastien Bourdais.

Q1 witnessed Power eclipse a 12-year-old track record, with a 1:00.8344 on Firestone’s red alternate tires breaking Sebastien Bourdais’ previous mark of 1:00.928, set in the single Champ Car race held on the streets of St. Petersburg in 2003.

Sato, Tony Kanaan, Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden and Simona de Silvestro advanced from Group 1 in Q1, with all their best times within a two-tenth gap (1:01.3370 to 1:01.5475) all on the reds.

Times improved in the second group in Q1, albeit with a greater gap among the top six (1:00.8344 to 1:01.4272). Power, Castroneves and Montoya made it three more Penske drivers through, with Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti and Bourdais also through.

Among those axed in Q1 included past St. Petersburg race winners Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe, and all first-year drivers Stefano Coletti, Luca Filippi, Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves and Francesco Dracone.

The defending series champion wasn’t done, though. Power banked a 1:00.6509 in Q2 to improve his own new track record by two tenths.

Power led all four Penske drivers into the Firestone Fast Six, with Pagenaud second, Montoya fifth and Castroneves sixth. Bourdais and Sato were the two interlopers, with Sato the lone Honda in the Fast Six.

Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Dixon, Newgarden, de Silvestro and Andretti were eliminated. A brief review of an incident with Kanaan and Pagenaud occurred, with no action taken.

In the Firestone Fast Six, Castroneves set the early mark of 1:01.2201 before the final few minutes witnessed the drivers go for broke.

Power was first into the 1:00 range in the session, at 1:00.7582, before teammate Pagenaud beat him at 1:00.7252.

But Power beat him back with the ultimate pole time of 1:00.6931, which was slightly off his Q2 track record.

He and his longtime rival will share the front row with Castroneves and Montoya completing the top-four sweep. Sato and Bourdais were fifth and sixth.


1. (1) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 01:00.6931 (106.767)
2. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Chevy, 01:00.7252 (106.710)
3. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 01:00.8356 (106.517)
4. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Dallara-Chevy, 01:00.8532 (106.486)
5. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 01:01.1496 (105.970)
6. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 01:01.1545 (105.961)
7. (10) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 01:01.1182 (106.024)
8. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 01:01.1670 (105.939)
9. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Chevy, 01:01.2285 (105.833)
10. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevy, 01:01.2478 (105.800)
11. (25) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 01:01.3657 (105.596)
12. (27) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 01:01.4765 (105.406)
13. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Chevy, 01:01.5727 (105.241)
14. (26) Carlos Munoz, Dallara-Honda, 01:01.4890 (105.385)
15. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 01:01.5742 (105.239)
16. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 01:01.5780 (105.232)
17. (4) Stefano Coletti, Dallara-Chevy, 01:01.6727 (105.071)
18. (8) Sage Karam, Dallara-Chevy, 01:01.8011 (104.853)
19. (20) Luca Filippi, Dallara-Chevy, 01:01.6736 (105.069)
20. (7) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 01:01.8323 (104.800)
21. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Dallara-Honda, 01:02.0095 (104.500)
22. (98) Gabby Chaves, Dallara-Honda, 01:01.9705 (104.566)
23. (19) Francesco Dracone, Dallara-Honda, 01:04.2654 (100.832)
24. (18) Carlos Huertas, Dallara-Honda, 01:01.9716 (104.564)

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”