IndyCar driver Will Power teased his competition in Grand Prix of Baltimore practice Saturday morning and worried himself a little bit, too, as he was just 15th fastest during Grand Prix of Baltimore practice Saturday morning on the track as drivers worked to familiarize themselves with overnight track changes. with the chicane that had been installed overnight on Pratt St.
But when qualifying came in the afternoon, Power said he was inspired, “I really wanted the pole,” he said, and demonstrated how much, stepping on the gas and repeating as the pole sitter for the second edition of the race that will run over 2.04 miles of the city’s downtown streets.
His Team Penske Chevrolet covered the course in 1 minute, 17.2709 seconds, at a speed of 111.116 mph. Second fastest qualifier Mike Conway, in his A.J. Foyt Honda, traveled at 110.881 mph in 1:17.4347.
“Will was very fast,” Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon said.
Dixon is third in the points race and was third fastest Saturday at 110.431 mph. He’ll move up to second on the starting grid Sunday because Conway will move back 10 places after being penalized for serve a 10-place penalty for an unapproved engine change.
A year ago Power started on the pole and won, leading 70 of 75 laps of the inaugural Grand Prix here. This week he has never missed a chance to say how important it is to start on the pole and run out front.
“[The slow practice time] was just minimal time on the track the last couple days,” he said. “We knew we had a pretty good setup. I was a little worried after practice we were only 15th, but we only got a couple laps. I was determined to get the pole.
“I needed another point toward the championship. It definitely helps. And starting at the front lowers the percentages of getting involved in an incident in the first lap.”
And there were plenty of incidents Saturday. Enough cars went hopping and banging into walls to cause IndyCar officials to continue consideration of using tires on the course Sunday to denote the chicane and prevent drivers from running over the curbs.
A crash by Graham Rahal in the first round of the three-step qualifying sessions could eventually impact the outcome of the championship points race. Rahal’s crash brought out the red flag closing the track and virtually ending the first session.
Power’s closest competitor, Ryan Hunter-Reay, second place 37 points behind in the championship race, 37 points behind, will start 13th after being caught short when Rahal crashed.
Hunter-Reay got only two qualifying laps in before the track was closed and he could be seen sitting in his car steaming. The situation meant he was only seventh fastest in the session and did not advance to the second round or have a chance at the pole or a top qualifying spot.
“We can manage this,” Hunter-Reay said later. “We can manage it, but we really stepped on our own foot.
“That’s what you get for going out the latest. We went out latest out of anybody and gave ourselves absolutely no margin for error on a red flag happening. It’s part of the qualifying risk on street courses, part of the beast, you wait until the last possible moment to get the most rubber down on the track and obviously get the best lap time out of the car, and we got bit by that.”
Also disappointed was Conway, who qualified second, but will move back to 12th on the starting grid to serve a 10-place penalty for an unauthorized engine change.
“The penalty is a bit annoying,” Conway said. “It could have been a front row start. But it is what it is. Same for everyone.”
Dario Franchitti, who beat Power for the series championship each of the last two years but is out of the running this season, qualified fifth. He noted the difficulty of the course.
“It’s difficult here as bumpy as the place is,” he said. “Now with this chicane you can gain 3 or 4/10ths by what you do there. It made it pretty daunting just to put a lap together. But that is part of the challenge. It’s a typical street course challenge, probably only more so. With the limited track time, we’re still learning. It’s a challenge for the whole field because of that.”
But it didn’t seem to make any difference to Will Power. Asked what it is about this place that suits him, Power offered this: “I think we have good cars and driving for Penske is the biggest thing. He gives you the best equipment. If you’re not on pole or winning, you probably lose your job. You know, it’s expected.”
When Franchitti, Conway, Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe were asked how other drivers can beat Power Sunday without punting him off the track — as jokingly suggested by Dixon, sixth-place qualifier James Hinchcliffe deadpanned, “There goes all my ideas.”
Later Franchitti would talk about improving his own attack and Dixon pointed out the fact Power and his team have made mistakes in the pits that could give someone else an advantage. When asked the initial question, the other top qualifiers behind Power, all said nothing.
Finally, Power gave them a clue:
“Easy,” he said. “Throw a yellow. [That’s how] it happened last week (laughter).”
A week ago, Power looked a sure winner until an error by his pit crew slowed his exit from pit road and slow traffic under yellow prevented him from beating his teammate, Ryan Briscoe, who was exiting the pit on the next lap, to the lead.
But that was Sonoma, Calif. This is Baltimore. So far in Baltimore, Power has been just about lights out perfect.
— Baltimore Sun