Will Power has won 35 races in his IndyCar career, with 16 of those coming when he started from the pole.
Power gets another chance to add to both of those totals Sunday at the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas, as a last-lap flyer clinched his second pole of the season and the 56th of his career.
The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske machine circled the 3.41-mile circuit in 1 minute, 46.0177 seconds was just .16 second faster than Alexander Rossi, and, like his pole at St. Pete two weeks ago, came just as the checkered flag flew to end the Fast Six session. Ryan Hunter-Reay and rookie Colton Herta will make up the second row, while Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Felix Rosenqvist and Scott Dixon will occupy row three.
“I’ve never held my breath so much,” Power said. “I really had to dig deep, but yeah, it was a good battle.”
While Power captured the pole, he won’t leave Austin as the track record holder. That belongs to Rosenqvist, who popped a 1:45.4542 in round two. The 27-year-old from Sweden continues to impress early in his IndyCar career, and after leading 31 laps and finishing fourth at St. Pete, he looks to add to his solid start to the season.
While Rosenqvist was happy to be back in the Fast Six, he was hoping for more after his record-setting lap.
“It’s a little bit bittersweet for sure,” Rosenqvist said. “I think especially after the second shootout there, I think my mindset was definitely on the pole.
It was a great day. We were up there again and we were in the Firestone Fast Six for the second time in two weekends, so cannot complain about that but as Scott said, I think we probably aimed for a bit more (Saturday).”
The rookie class was well represented in the Fast Six by Herta and Rosenqvist, and overall there will be four rookies in the first six rows of the field. Pato O’Ward will start eighth and Santino Ferrucci will take the green flag in the 11th starting spot.
O’Ward, making his first start of the season as part of a 13-race deal with Carlin Racing, just missed the Fast Six by .08 seconds. After finishing sixth in his debut at Laguna Seca last September, O’Ward hopes to put on a good show at his “home” track with over 400 guests in attendance.
“We have the pace, I’m just a little behind on track knowledge, because it involves a lot of technique, especially with the slow stuff,” O’Ward said. “We’re starting eighth and I think that is a very good starting position for this race and for the first race for me and the Carlin boys.”
Overall seven different teams make up the Top 11 starting spots in what was a very competitive qualifying session.
It’s all about the tires
One common topic of discussion among the drivers all weekend was about tire wear and how it will make up a large part of the race-day strategy.
Tires will be a big part of how the teams will manage their races given the degree of falloff as they go through a stint. It will definitely affect how teams pit as they try to hold onto or improve track position.
“I think it comes down to tire degradation, and who is going to be able to take care of their tires,” Hunter-Reay said. “That will be very key to the race in the outcome to show itself. We’ll see. I don’t think anybody really knows what they have until they get out there and run it 20 laps in a row, 18, 15 laps in a row.”
The hard part is that there doesn’t seem to be a pattern established on how the tires will perform. Some drivers, like Power, felt their cars were better with a few laps on tires, while Rosenqvist thought his car was best on new kicks.
“We had one (long stint Friday) to understand how the degradation is going to work,” Power said. “We have a think about it and make sure that we have a car that looks after the tires. I think clean air is probably going to be a good thing in the race, as well. So hopefully we can keep that for the whole race, that would be nice.”