Story By: PAUL KELLY / INDYCAR – MONTEREY, CA – Will Power wrote a new chapter of INDYCAR SERIES history one day before he could enter his name in the sport’s annals as a series champion for the second time.
Power broke Mario Andretti’s all-time record with his 68th career pole Saturday during NTT P1 Award qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.
Power, 41, from Toowomba, Australia, drove to his series-leading fifth pole this season in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, burnishing his legend and starting from the perfect position as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship leader entering the season finale Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
“It’s such a big day tomorrow that I can’t celebrate much because I’ve got to be so focused on tomorrow,” Power said. “Tremendous milestone. To be out there with an iconic guy like Mario is amazing. When I think about the era he raced in, how dangerous it was and how much more of a risk it was, it just blows my mind I’m there with Mario.”
Said Andretti: “Awesome. I know how much I loved qualifying, and I can see he’s the same. Trying to reach and trying to do the lap you know you cannot repeat. That’s what puts you on pole. It (losing record) was coming. It’s beautiful. It’s great for the series and the sport. Records are made to be broken, and it’s with a good man.”
Power’s best lap in the Firestone Fast Six was 1 minute, 11.6127 seconds. Rookie Callum Ilott will join him in the front row of the 95-lap race Sunday (2:40 p.m. ET, NBC; 3 p.m. ET, Telemundo Deportes on Universo and INDYCAR Radio Network) after qualifying a career-best second at 1:11.6320 in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet.
The pole gave Power more than just a big piece of history. He also will be awarded one bonus point when the race starts tomorrow, which could be pivotal as he looks to preserve his 20-point lead over Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and win a second season championship to accompany his 2014 title. Marcus Ericsson (-39) of CGR and Scott McLaughlin (-41) of Team Penske also are eligible to win the championship Sunday.
Power was the only member of the title-contending quintet to advance to the Firestone Fast Six, creating an even clearer path for his championship hopes on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile track where passing is difficult due to the challenging layout and low-grip, highly abrasive surface.
McLaughlin was the best of the rest among the title contenders, qualifying eighth at 1:11.6916 in the No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet after going off track in Turn 4 during the second round of qualifying. Ericsson qualified 10th after spinning in the famous “Corkscrew” turn during the second round, ending up with a best lap of 1:12.1359 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Dixon and Newgarden will have plenty of work to do to win the Astor Challenge Cup on Sunday after neither driver advanced from the first round.
Six-time series champion Dixon will start 13th after his best lap of 1:12.1722 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Dixon and every other driver besides Newgarden in the first qualifying group of the first round were forced into a one-lap showdown for position when Newgarden triggered a red flag, lost his two quickest laps and chance to advance by clouting a curb in the “Corkscrew” and spinning off the course.
Two-time series champion Newgarden will start 25th in the 26-car field in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.
Among the other four drivers in the Firestone Fast Six, Alexander Rossi qualified third at 1:11.7698 in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda, with Andretti Autosport teammate Romain Grosjean fourth at 1:11.7858 in the No. 28 DHL Honda.
Alex Palou, whose reign as series champion has one more day, qualified fifth at 1:12.1625 in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Pato O’Ward rounded out the Firestone Fast Six at 1:12.4542 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
Ilott was the top rookie qualifier but already is eliminated from Rookie of the Year contention. The two drivers competing for that honor, David Malukas and Christian Lundgaard, qualified seventh and 16th, respectively. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Lundgaard leads Dale Coyne Racing with HMD driver Malukas by five points in the standings.
A 30-minute warmup session at noon ET Sunday will precede the race, with live coverage on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.