March 24, 2012
Power destroys St. Pete's lap recordCanada's Hinchcliffe finishes fourth in IndyCar qualifying
By Dean McNulty, QMI Agency
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. - That explosion that emanated from the IZOD IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Saturday was Will Power blowing up the track qualifying record with a blistering fast lap of one minute, 1.372 seconds.
The previous record of 1:01.962 — set last season by Power in the No. 12 Penske Racing machine — was bested by more than half a second.
And it was a monster day for Chevrolet, new to IndyCar this season, putting five of their Chevy-powered race cars — including Power — in the top six spots.
Ryan Briscoe will start second in Sunday’s race after he laid down a lap of 1:01.535 in the No. 2 Penske Chevrolet and Ryan Hunter-Reay claimed third spot in the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet with a time of 1:01.932.
Not to be outdone, Canada’s James Hinchcliffe, put up the fourth fastest time of the final qualifying session of 1:01.970 in his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet in his first IndyCar qualifying effort at the 2.88 km St. Petersburg street course.
But it was a bitterly disappointing day for Honda — the only engine manufacturer in the series since 2005 until this season — putting only rookie Simon Pagenaud in the top six and he will have to move to 16th spot after changing the motor in his No. 77 Sam Schmidt/Davey Hamilton Racing Honda.
More surprising was four-time IndyCar champion and defending race champion Dario Franchitti not even making it to the final session in the No. 10 Target Ganassi Racing Honda.
Power said the Penske team, tired of a string of second-place championship finishes, worked feverishly over the winter to get a good start this season.
“We worked hard,” he said. “Roger (Penske) has been pretty keen on winning the championship this season after the last couple of years.”
Power also surprised himself that he was able to lay down his record-breaking lap on old soft compound tires.
“I really didn’t think we would be that fast because our tires were degrading pretty quickly,” he said.
Hinchcliffe had the best time in the second of three sessions and thought he might be able to hold on to the top spot until Power made his final run, but an ever so slight brush with the wall ended that chance.
Still he was happy with his second row start.
“I made a bit of a mistake on my quickest lap, maybe there was a tiny bit left in there, but at the end of the day my first start here and the first start of the season, it’s a great way to kick it off,” he said.
Hinchcliffe said one advantage to being so close to the front is it gives him a better chance to avoid the usual wrecks that happen in the first turn of the race.
“It is nice to be at the sharp end of the first turn at St. Petes,” he said.
Canada’s other driver in Sunday’s race — Montreal’s Alex Tagliani — failed to advance from the first qualifying session on a lap of 1:02.650. It was, however, the fastest lap of all the Lotus teams on Saturday.
“I feel the car is getting better,” Tagliani said. “I am hoping for an early yellow flag (on Sunday) so that we can pit out of sequence and give is a chance to run up front.
“But (the Lotus engine) doesn’t have the kind of power the Chevrolets have on the long straightaways.”
Former Formula One star Rubens Barrichello also failed to make it past the first round of qualifying in the No. 8 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet with a fastest lap of only 1:02.200 in his inaugural IndyCar qualifying session.
The problems with Lotus engines came to a head Saturday when powerhouse team owner Roger Penske hinted that Chevrolet and Honda may have to step up to supply engines if Lotus continues to lag behind on the race track. “I sure hope another engine manufacturer steps in if Lotus drops out,” he said. Lotus, which supplies five teams, including Tagliani’s No. 98 BHR Barracuda squad, has had problems building engines that match Honda and Chevrolet on horsepower. But IndyCar boss Randy Bernard steadfastly defended Lotus saying the series would give them every opportunity to fix their problems. He refused to say if IndyCar had a contingency plan should Lotus not move ahead fast enough ... Latest rumour making the rounds is that long retired F-1 driver Jean Alesi — he hasn’t raced in a top level series since 2001 — will join Tagliani as a teammate for the Indianapolis 500.
Starting grid for Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
1: Will Power, Chevrolet
2: Ryan Briscoe, Chevrolet
3: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Chevrolet
4: James Hinchcliffe, Chevrolet
5: Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet
6: *Simon Pagenaud, Honda
7: Scott Dixon, Honda
8: Marco Andretti, Chevrolet
9: Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet
10: Dario Franchitti, Honda
11: Graham Rahal, Honda
12: Mike Conway, Honda
13: E.J. Viso, Chevrolet
14: Rubens Barrichello, Chevrolet
15: Takumo Sato, Honda
16: Justin Wilson, Honda
17: Alex Tagliani, Lotus
18: JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet
19: Josef Newgarden, Honda
20: James Jakes, Honda
21: Simona de Silvestro, Lotus
22: Charlie Kimball, Honda
23: Oriol Servia, Lotus
24: Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet
25: Katherine Legge, Lotus
26: Seabastien Bourdais, Lotus
(*Will move to 16th after formation lap)