Defending winner Will Power takes pole for INDYCAR GP of Indianapolis

IndyCar
1 Comment

Will Power completed a sweep of Friday’s activities by taking the pole for Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After being fastest in the two practice sessions earlier in the day, Power went out for a second qualifying lap and that proved to be the difference for him, running 125.761 mph at 1 minute, 9.8182 seconds.

“We had to dig deep, that was all I had,” Power said. “I’m really stoked, man. We just have to execute because it’s been a rough start to the season.”

It’s Power’s 51st pole in 192 career IndyCar starts in the series, giving him sole possession of third place in series history for most poles. He had been tied with Helio Castroneves, one of Power’s three teammates who drives for Roger Penske’s Chevrolet-powered team.

It also was his third pole for the INDYCAR GP — he won the two other times he started the race from the pole (in 2015 and last year’s race). His Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud has claimed the other two Grand Prix in 2014 and 2016.

Canadian driver and IndyCar rookie Robert Wickens looked like he would capture the pole before Power’s last-minute effort on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.

Even so, Wickens will start on the front row, doing so with a speed of 125.604 mph at 1:09.9052.

“We got both of our cars into the top six there,” Wickens said of his performance and teammate James Hinchcliffe, who qualified fourth. “It’s great to get P2, but when you lead the whole qual, you want to finish the job,” Wickens said. “You have to do a perfect job to get the pole here. … We’ve been doing a good job all year and we’ve been keeping it going. Tomorrow’s a whole new can of warms so let’s go play.”

Third through sixth were St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais (125.533 mph at 1:09.9449), James Hinchcliffe (125.281 mph at 1:10:0858), rookie Jordan King (125.197 mph at 1:10.1326) and defending Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden (124.144 mph at 1:10.7276).

It was a big bounce-back for Hinchcliffe, who struggled during the day’s two practice sessions before finding the right key in qualifying.

“It was a bad day to have a bad day,” Hinchcliffe said. “We had a really bad practice 2, had a massive braking problem and couldn’t develop the car at all.

Two-time Indy GP winner Simon Pagenaud qualified seventh (125.366 mph at 1:10.0382).

“I have struggled with this car a lot, the feeling of it,” Pagenaud said. “I’m slowly getting my driving back to the level you used to know. … It’s just a matter of putting things together. I’m very positive for the future, the rest of the season, we found what I need and it gives me a smile.”

2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who was second in the first practice and third in the second practice, slipped to the eighth starting spot for Saturday’s GP.

“We missed it for qualifying, which was disappointing, especially after we were top-3 in both practice sessions,” said Rossi (125.244 mph at 1:10.1062).

Spencer Pigot was ninth (125.148 mph at 1:10.1601.

Making his first start of the season, three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves didn’t appear to have much rust to shake off, qualifying 10th (125.104 mph at 1:10.1847).

“It’s been great,” Castroneves said of his return to driving an IndyCar (he’s racing full-time in the IMSA Weatherech Championship Series this season for Acura Team Penske. “Definitely a different car, but we’re looking strong. We did a lot of adjustments in one session to try and capitalize. We had nothing to lose.

“Starting tenth isn’t bad. We started before from ninth and got the podium. We were right up there, we just have to keep our nose clean tomorrow and have a strong finish.”

There were two major surprises during qualifying.

First was Graham Rahal, who qualified 17th (124.792 mph at 1:10.3605).

“Clearly I’m disappointed,” Rahal said. “It was frustrating to go out there and to lock up the right front like that. I’ve never had it where I went into Turn 1 and I couldn’t read the brake markers because the car was vibrating that badly. It’s disappointing because I think that we probably had a car that was quick enough to maybe advance.

“Was it a top-six car? No. But should it have advanced? Yes. We’re just going to have to work hard tomorrow and stay out of trouble. Turn 1 is going to be hectic tomorrow. Luckily I’ve got Scott (Dixon) by me. Hopefully he and I can take care of each other and go race.”

Which leads to the second surprise, that of Dixon, who will go off on tomorrow’s grid in the 18th position (124.860 mph at 1:10.3221).

“This morning in cooler conditions, the car wasn’t too bad,” Dixon said. “We took a hefty swing at it for qualifying. … We threw something pretty heavy for it and tried to go back a bit with the red tires, but we’re not where we need to be.

“We’ll get back to something we know that’s fairly decent and feed through there. Today, it just seems the heat made it worse for us against others.”

The fifth annual INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis will take the green flag Saturday afternoon at 3:40 p.m. ET.

We’ll have more info and driver quotes shortly. Please check back soon.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
0 Comments

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.