Will Power on IndyCar pole again at St. Pete; Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden miss Fast Six

IndyCar season finale pole
Chris Jones/IndyCar

Will Power captured the pole position for the NTT IndyCar Series season finale as the championship race took an interesting turn Saturday in qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

It’s the 62nd career pole position and the record-extending ninth pole at St. Pete for Power, who has qualified first in a series-leading five races this season.

“I thought we had worse tires than the other guys, but I just absolutely nailed it, man,” the Team Penske driver, who is five short of tying Mario Andretti’s all-time pole record, told NBC Sports Gold reporter Marty Snider. “Really, really good lap. I had to work the wheel hard for that one.

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Click here for the full rundown

ROUND BY ROUND: Group 1 l Group 2 l Round 2 l Fast Six

“I’m able always to take it to another level (in qualifying), and I can only do it once a weekend, I reckon. It’s something I love. I just absolutely love getting the most out of something and perfecting a craft I’ve been working at for 25 years.”

Points leader Scott Dixon’s struggles continued in qualifying as the No. 9 Dallara-Honda posted the 11th-fastest speed for Sunday’s race. It will be only the fourth time in 16 starts that the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has started outside the top 10 at St. Pete.

Dixon caught a break as championship rival Josef Newgarden also failed to advance to the Fast Six.

“That definitely helps us a lot, , them not qualifying on pole and getting an extra point,” said Dixon, who leads Newgarden by 32 points.

It’s the fourth time in five races Dixon has qualified outside the top 10. The five-time series champion is in the worst four-race stretch in 15 years with finishes of 10th, 10th, ninth and eighth entering St. Pete.

“It’s gotta be exciting,” Dixon joked to NBC Sports Gold reporter Kevin Lee. “That was a little bit strange. The first session, the car felt good.”

CLINCH SCENARIOS: How the championship can be decided Sunday

Dixon needs to finish only 11th or better, regardless of where Newgarden finishes Sunday. Newgarden won this race last year after starting second, and his eight-place starting spot actually is his third best in nine starts on the street course.

We took a swing at it for Q2,” Newgarden told Snider. “It wasn’t the right direction, and I didn’t get the most out of it. I definitely had a lot of slides and wasn’t clean. I think just putting a clean lap together would have been good to transfer, and we just didn’t do the job.

“We can win from (eighth). we just made it a little harder for ourselves.”

Alexander Rossi qualified second in his No. 27 Dallara-Honda, followed by Andretti Autosport teammates Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe. Jack Harvey and Pato O’Ward rounded out the top six.

There was much confusion from several penalties from the first round in Group 2 that affected the drivers who advanced. Most notable was Felix Rosenqvist, whose second-fastest lap was invalidated because the IndyCar stewards ruled that he interfered with Alex Palou.

Rosenqvist will start from the back while nursing a fractured right hand from a crash three weeks ago. He attributed the punishment to confusion from software supplied by IndyCar about whether drivers are on an in/out or a flying lap.

“I had a bit of traffic on my laps, but I put a decent lap together to get us through,” Rosenqvist said. “Then unfortunately we got penalized because we blocked (Palou), which our software told us that he was on his out lap, but he wasn’t. Obviously, we trust the software that IndyCar provides us, but it showed us the wrong thing, and we paid the price for it. It’s tough because the same thing happened to us last year at Laguna. It is what it is.”

Max Chilton (causing a local yellow), Rinus VeeKay (failure to reduce speed under yellow), Oliver Askew (failure to reduce speed under yellow) also initially were penalized.

But after a delay of more than 30 minutes in which it seemed Palou might be given a spot in the second round, IndyCar eventually allowed VeeKay to advance.

Other notables who failed to advance from the first round: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal and Scott McLaughlin, who will be making his IndyCar debut ahead of racing the full season next year for Team Penske. The New Zealand native will be starting 21st in the 24-car field.

Marco Andretti will start 23rd in Sunday’s race after his two fastest laps were disqualified by IndyCar officials, who ruled the Andretti Autosport driver interfered with Newgarden.

Click here for the full qualifying results.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).