INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power was hoping he could change directions at Indianapolis.
He took one giant step Friday.
Power turned his fastest lap on his final qualifying run, edging rookie Robert Wickens to capture the IndyCar Grand Prix pole for the third time in four years. He completed the 2.439-mile, 14-turn course in 1 minute, 9.8182 seconds.
“It’s definitely satisfying when you get a pole like this because you’ve got to work so hard for it these days,” the Australian said. “I like to give the young blokes a hard time when I can.”
The 37-year-old Power has shown no signs of slowing down with the Chevrolet-powered Team Penske.
He was the second fastest qualifier in the first group Friday, the third fastest in the second group and then sped past Wickens after time expired in the final group. Wickens, who drives for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, turned a lap of 1:09.9052. France’s Sebastien Bourdais will start third for Dale Coyne Racing.
Wickens and Bourdais both use Hondas.
Power sounded more relieved than excited after claiming his 51st career pole and breaking a tie with Helio Castroneves for third in series history.
Over the first four races, he started second three times and third once.
But he also knows it’s only a start. He hasn’t won since Pocono last August and has only one top-five finish all season.
Power has won this race twice – both from the pole.
“Obviously we’ve had a rough start to the season, but we’ve been quick everywhere, started in the front row pretty much every race except for Phoenix,” Power said. “I know I’ve got the speed and we can put races together. Very stoked to start P1.”
It puts him in position to become the first three-time race winner.
Wickens had a chance. He posted the fastest laps in each of the first two qualifying and jumped into the top spot on his final run – only to watch Power beat his time moments later.
“I feel like a jerk being upset with second place,” Wickens said. “But I think when you go quickest in your first two qualifying groups, you kind of hope to finish the job off.”
Bourdais thought he had a car that was good enough to earn the No. 1 spot, too. But he said he made one mistake in each of the final two qualifying rounds.
“I was good enough to throw away the pole,” Bourdais said.
James Hinchcliffe may have had the toughest day.
He struggled mightily with the brakes in the second practice session and looked like he wouldn’t even reach the second round until the final 20 seconds in Round 1. Somehow, he recovered to make the final six and wound up claiming the No. 4 starting spot on the grad with a time of 1:10.0858.
“It was a bad day to have a bad day with the compressed schedule,“ the Canadian who drives for Schmidt Peterson said. “But yeah, I’ll admit I’m very pleased.”
Take your pick.
Four fan favorites – Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay – were eliminated in the first round. Four more big names – Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi – were knocked out in the second round.
Pagenaud, a two-time race winner, starts seventh with Rossi eighth. Kanaan, Hunter-Reay and Andretti will start 12th, 13th and 14th, respectively. Rahal and Dixon were 17th and 18th.
Castroneves, the three-time Indianapolis 500 champ, didn’t have the best day on the track.
He showed he’s still got it, though.
The Brazilian made a last-ditch run to advance second round before finishing 10th overall in 1:10.1847.
Letterman turns serious
David Letterman can still play the funny guy. He also showed his serious side again after Rahal’s sponsor, United Rentals, announced it would donate $50 for every lap finished in May.
This year the company is making donations to help wounded military veterans for every lap completed by the Rahal Letterman Lanigan drivers, not just Rahal. The list includes defending Indy 500 champ Takuma Sato in Saturday’s race and Sato and Oriol Servia in the 500.
What moved Letterman though was a story he recounted about his October visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington. And what happened when Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee, walked into a room to visit a 35-year-old man who also lost both of his legs, below the knee.
“That moment you could see where there had been no hope for this man, suddenly he realized, holy crap, this woman is actually walking,” Letterman said. “And now she starts talking to him about his injury and saying, `You know, you’re lucky, because these injuries you have are below the knee. You’re going to get prosthetics. You’re going to walk out of here. You’re going to have another life.’ And this whole process that I witnessed, and it makes you a little weepy.”