Will Power Earns Record-Setting Pole for GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power reset his year-old track record to earn the Verizon P1 Award with a lap of one minute, 16.2597 seconds and pace four of the six championship contenders who will start on the first three rows for the title-deciding GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Three rounds of qualifications set the 25-car grid for Sunday's 85-lap race at Sonoma Raceway, which carries double base points along with bonus points for the pole (one point), leading a lap (one) and leading the most laps (two).
"I'm really stoked. I love qualifying and I'm very happy to end the year with a pole position," said Power, a three-time winner at Sonoma Raceway who has started from the pole five times in the past six years. "Lots of points on the table; we'll go for that win."
Power's closest championship contender in qualifying was Josef Newgarden, who qualified second (sixth, -87 points). Points leader Juan Pablo Montoya qualified fifth and second-place contender Graham Rahal was sixth (-34 points). Scott Dixon (third, -47 points) and Helio Castroneves (fifth, -77 points) were ninth and 15th, respectively.
Montoya has stood atop the standings since winning the season opener March 29 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., and his most direct path to his second Indy car title - separated by 16 years - is to finish first or second. The other contenders' script also is clear.
"Win. That's the best-case scenario," said Rahal, who advanced to the Firestone Fast Six for the first time since Twin Ring Motegi in 2011. "We finish third, fourth, fifth (in the race), it becomes obviously a bit more difficult because you're banking on Juan finishing 12th or worse. I don't think that's likely."
Newgarden, a two-time race winner this season, earned this second front-row start in the 16 races.
"Getting pole would've helped a lot more. It is worth points and it's double points this weekend," said Newgarden, driving the No. 67 GoPro CFH Racing Chevrolet. "We've got a really good car. We're hoping to have a good race. It starts with qualifying and we did a pretty decent job there. If we keep clean, we have a shot at winning that thing."
Lap times in qualifying were aided by new primary and alternate Firestone Racing tires that feature softer compounds to improve grip levels around the circuit, though in the race the tires will degrade quicker than a harder compound.
"No one's going to have a clue how this whole thing is going to play out," said Dixon, who won the 2014 race in Sonoma. "I think it will be exciting."
Seven drivers had the opportunity to compare the new primary tire against the 2014 tire in back-to-back stints during a test day Aug. 13 at Sonoma Raceway. The construction of both the primary and alternate is the same as the other road course tires used this season.
It is the 10th consecutive season that the Verizon IndyCar Series champion will be decided in the final race.
Tickets are still available for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, and kids 12 and under are admitted free all weekend. In addition to the Verizon IndyCar Series, Sunday's action will also include the Pirelli World Challenge Series. For more information, visit www.racesonoma.com or call 800-870-RACE (7223).