The hits in NTT INDYCAR SERIES qualifying keep coming for Will Power, but they are not the kind he seeks.
The 2014 series champion who is second in this year’s standings had never had three consecutive starts of 15th or lower, which means the fourth in a row he got saddled with Saturday in qualifying for the Honda Indy Toronto is foreign territory.
This one was particularly painful. Power was nearly four-tenths of a second to the good to advance out of the first round when the caution waved for Kyle Kirkwood’s spin and wall contact. Power couldn’t believe bad luck kept him from completing that transferable lap.
“I should know that you should (be in the top six) at all times because this can happen,” he told NBC of session-stopping caution flag. “(I) had a really fast car – again -- and it is crazy that that’s three races in a row we’ve been like (second quick) in practice before qualifying and then like 15th, 19th, 20th – frustrating man, frustrating.”
Power will start 16th in Sunday’s 85-lap race that airs live exclusively on Peacock Premium starting at 3 p.m. (ET). In this stretch of four races he has started 16th, 15th, 21st and now 16th.
By comparison, Power has been the fastest qualifier for 63 races in his career, a figure second only to Mario Andretti in INDYCAR history. In one stretch during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Power had a run of 16 consecutive top-three starts with nine poles. Expanding that to 19 races, he never started lower than fifth.
Kirkwood’s spin created the red flag that denied Power his final lap in the session, but it was the series’ way of determining pit boxes that contributed to the situation. Pit selection is based on how entrants qualify in the most-recent similar race, so Power was toward the back after starting 21st July 3 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Being in the back half of pit road was part of the reason he was one of the last to complete his lap, and as it turned out, the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet didn’t get to complete it.
“Definitely had the car (to advance), even was on a lap,” Power said. “I got to Turn 6 and was up four-tenths, which would have got us through. That’s also a result of bad qualifying (at the previous race), where you’re at the back (of pit road). So, you’re behind everyone, and if someone creates a red, you’re not across the line (to complete the lap). It just keeps adding up.”
At least there is reason for Power to have optimism Sunday. Power won in Detroit from the 16th starting position, and at Mid-Ohio he drove from the back of the pack after a first-lap spin to finish third. Can he repeat one of those performances?
“We’ll see,” he said. “We’ve had some great races from the back. Just got to do it again, unfortunately.
“It’s definitely a track known for a lot of mayhem, so who knows. Try to keep out of trouble and once again try to get in the top 10, try not to lose too (many points). See how we go.”
Power stands 20 points behind series leader Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda), who starts ninth in the 25-car field. Power has won three races at Exhibition Place (2007 for KV Racing Technology and in 2010 and 2016 for Team Penske).
Second Again for Dixon
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) continued to be strong in qualifying at Exhibition Place, earning the second starting position for his third consecutive race on the 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary street circuit.
Dixon also qualified second in 2018 and 2019, winning the former. He also swept the 2013 doubleheader, tying him with Power for the most wins among active drivers in this event.
By not winning the NTT P1 Award, Dixon extended a different kind of personal streak. He has not won a pole outside of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge since 2016 at Watkins Glen International, a race he won. He has won 11 races since then.
Dixon has won races in a series-record 17 consecutive seasons but is winless this season. Sunday could be his day.
“We can win from here,” he said. “We’re going to be giving everything tomorrow.”
As for Dixon’s record of consecutive seasons with at least one win, he needs to extend it. Power has already won this year – the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix – and will take a streak of 16 straight winning seasons into 2023.
Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) bounced off the wall just ahead of the timing line on his final lap in qualifying, but he said it didn’t impact his position. He didn’t transfer out of the first round and will start 15th.
“I haven’t had the speed all weekend, (and) I don’t have another answer for you,” O’Ward told NBC. “We’ve been slow, we haven’t gotten better, and I go any quicker and I’m bouncing off the wall. We don’t have it right now.”
Asked if it makes a difference which Firestone Firehawk tire compound he’s on, O’Ward shrugged.
“We’re not very good with either or,” he said.
O’Ward is seeking his second race win of the season – he won the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park. He is fifth in the standings, 65 points out of the series lead.
A Difficult Saturday Morning
Much damage was inflicted Saturday morning at Exhibition Place.
First, the start of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ practice was delayed 33 minutes due to repairs necessary following a Turn 3 crash in a qualifying session for a support series. The hard, two-car hit moved the outside wall back several feet and damaged several cables.
Once the NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice began, Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) grazed the inside wall in Turn 2, contact which ricocheted him into the outside wall. Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean (No. 28 DHL Honda) banged the wall in Turn 11, and the damage to the car similarly ended his session. Both drivers are competing at Exhibition Place for the first time.
Late in the session, Takuma Sato (No. 51 Deloitte Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR) slammed the left side of the car with the outside wall at the exit of Turn 6.
Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) also had to retire from the session early after the car’s engine protection system alerted a problem. Newgarden confirmed the engine change.
A Chevrolet spokesman said all the manufacturer’s drivers have been using their Indianapolis 500 engines this weekend except for Dalton Kellett, who is on a different engine life cycle sequence in the No. 4 K-LINE/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet due to previous crash damage.
Palou’s Honda engine went silent in qualifying, causing a red flag. The reigning series champion who is fourth in the point standings will start a season-low 22nd. Only once in his 40-race career has he started deeper in the field (he rolled off 25th for Race 1 in Detroit in 2021).
Odds and Ends
- All of Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES action, including the 85-lap Honda Indy Toronto, can be viewed on Peacock Premium. The 30-minute pre-race warmup begins at 10:55 a.m. (ET), with the race broadcast at 3 p.m. The green flag is expected about 3:30 p.m.
- USF2000 points leader Myles Rowe won Saturday’s race by 5.8 seconds over Pabst Racing teammate Jace Denmark, bringing his season race win total to five. Earlier in the day, Denmark won the pole for Sunday’s race with a lap of 1:12.1898. Rowe will start third in the back half of the doubleheader set for 9:45 a.m. (ET).
- In Indy Pro 2000, series points leader Louis Foster of Exclusive Autosport had an impressive Saturday, first winning the pole for Sunday’s race and then capturing his fifth race win of the season. Foster earned the Race 2 pole with a lap of 1:08.6292 and won Race 1 by 5.2 seconds.