SONOMA, Calif. (AP) Will Power won the IndyCar pole at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday, putting the overall points leader in prime position for his championship chase.
Power turned a lap in 1:17.4126 seconds on the winding course at the base of wine country. He’ll start in front Sunday when he attempts to win the race for the fourth time in five years.
The Australian broke his own track record in the first qualifying heat, turning a lap in 1:17.2393. He has won four of his 36 career poles at Sonoma along with his three race victories, yet he claims no special knowledge of the tough course.
”To me, the track condition changes here all the time,” Power said. ”You don’t know what you’re going to get. I felt confident with my car going into the Fast Six, but I think … if Helio didn’t make mistakes with his lap, he would have been very close and tough to beat.”
Josef Newgarden matched his career-best qualifying performance by finishing second, with Scott Dixon third and James Hinchcliffe fourth.
While Power’s Team Penske Chevrolet performed just as well as expected, his two closest rivals for the overall points championship had disappointments.
Helio Castroneves, who trails teammate Power by 40 points, finished sixth. Simon Pagenaud, who sits third in the overall points standings, qualified in 15th place.
Qualifying is particularly important at Sonoma. No driver starting outside the top five has won the race since IndyCar arrived at the track in 2005.
The 12 turns on the 2.385-mile road course make any passing difficult, particularly when swirling winds hit the north end of San Francisco Bay.
”It’s definitely less pressure starting up front, just for the fact that you’re not in and amongst the action,” Power said. ”I feel it is a very track position race. It has been in the past. Unless something strange happens with strategy, it’s (about) putting ourselves in the best possible position to win the race.”
IndyCar had a compressed two-day schedule in Sonoma with no practice sessions Friday, although many teams tested on the course earlier this month. The teams had two practice sessions Saturday before qualifying.
What’s more, Team Penske traveled straight from Milwaukee to Northern California instead of returning all the way home to North Carolina, forcing the team to prepare its cars on the fly this week.