Power wins pole position for the Indycar champion-deciding race
Will Power isn’t stepping down as IndyCar champion with- out a fight.
Power won the pole for Sunday’s title-deciding race at Sonoma Raceway by circling the circuit in 1 minute, 16.25 seconds. The Australian heads into the season finale one of six drivers mathematically eligible to win the title.
But Power is a distant fourth in the standings and trails Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya by 61 points.
“Really stoked,” Power said. “I am very happy to end the year with pole position.”
After winning the title last year, Power put a lot of his focus on winning the Indianapolis 500 and came up just short, finishing second to Montoya. In all, he’s got just one victory this year and three podiums. It’s Power’s worst statistical year since 2009, when he ran just six races.
His thoughts after qualifying just like most of the paddock: He took a moment to honor Justin Wilson, who died this week from a heady injury suffered last Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Power qualified Saturday with a token in his pocket that commemorated Wilson with a nod to the joke that “Justin Wilson always had two-tenths (of a second) in his back pocket.”
“Wilson, man, he was the one who could always get twotenths out of a bad car,” Power said after bumping Josef Newgarden from the pole. “Nicest guy on pit lane. Every time I think about it, it just makes me so sad. We’re going to honor him in the right way with a good, clean race.”
Newgarden, who has longest shot at winning title, qualified second.
Ryan Hunter- Reay, the winner last week at Pocono, qualified third but is not eligible for the championship. Neither is Simon Pagenaud, the the who qualified fourth.
Montoya will start fifth, one spot ahead of Graham Rahal. Montoya holds a 34-point lead over Rahal going into Sunday, a race that will be worth double points.
“That’s all we had,” Montoya said. “We did what we needed to do.”
Four of the six contenders advanced to the final fast six round of qualifying.
Scott Dixon didn’t make it out of the group of 12 and will start ninth; Helio Castroneves failed to advance out of the first round and will start 15th.
Dixon had a fast car, but couldn’t put together a clean qualifying lap.
“We need to get something going our way because starting ninth is not going to cut it,” said Dixon, who felt he failed to advance because he hit “a whole pile of dirt,” on the track surface as he drove through turn 6.
“I got into there when there was obviously too much dirt, and got in there too hot,” he said.
This rocky IndyCar season will come to an end Sunday and teams and drivers will scatter all over the world to begin to properly mourn Wilson. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced for the 37-year-old British driver, and this weekend of racing was a temporary respite from the grief many have suffered from the last week.
But the mourning has continued, and there was a poignant moment earlier Saturday when Roger Penske was inducted to the Sonoma Raceway Wall of Fame. As he was presented with his plaque, the scion of motorsports made a request: He wanted Justin Wilson’s name inscribed on the Penske plaque.
“I wouldn’t let this day go by without having his name on that plaque with me,” Penske said about Wilson, “because he’s one of the great guys. We lose a great friend and a competitor, and we need to honor him also.”
The six championship contenders have tried this week to promote the title-deciding race, and Saturday’s qualifying session felt like the drivers had returned to normalcy.
Sunday’s race is worth double points, so Montoya’s 34-point lead over Graham Rahal isn’t exactly secure.
But the Colombian controls his own destiny: The title is his if he finishes third or better, and he only needs to finish fourth or better if Rahal wins the race.
Rahal, the only representative in the championship race of a single-car team, is headed into Sunday with every intention of winning the race. He’s up against three Team Penske drivers, one from Chip Ganassi Racing and one from CFH Racing.
Rahal is the only Honda driver in a contenders group that includes five Chevy guys. Asked if he expected Honda’s other drivers to assist him on track Sunday, Rahal noted he was wrecked last week by a Honda driver.
The incident with Tristan Vautier knocked Rahal out of the race and his deficit was bumped from nine points to 34.
“We’re going to do the best we can. I’m sure Honda is not going to want any of the other cars to play a role in the championship,” Rahal said. “At the same time, everybody is out here to compete. I don’t expect anybody to help me out or give us anything.”
Dixon sits third in the standings, and wins the championship with a victory and Montoya finishing lower than sixth. The three-time IndyCar champion has two wins this season.
“We need a few things to work in our favor,” Dixon said.
Power sits fourth and Helio Castroneves is fifth as both Team Penske drivers have trailed teammate Montoya all year. Power has just one victory on the season, while Castroneves is winless.
“If there’s a chance, it’s possible,” Castroneves said.