Commentary

Power wins pole in Long Beach

Penske driver continues to excel this season; Ganassi team doesn't qualify in top six

Updated: April 18, 2010, 12:20 AM ET
By Martin Henderson | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Will Power continued to show his dominance by winning the pole position for the third time in four races, this time dominating the field in qualifying on the streets of Long Beach.

But just as notably as Power's presence atop the qualifying grid for Roger Penske's team was Chip Ganassi Racing's absence from it. For the first time since the IZOD IndyCar Series adopted the Firestone Fast Six qualifying format -- knockout qualifying until only the six fastest drivers remain -- a Ganassi car failed for the first time in 22 events to make the marquee session.

Scott Dixon, a two-time champion for Ganassi, qualified eighth, and Dario Franchitti -- who won last year's race and championship -- was 12th after hitting the wall in the second session. Dan Wheldon had also helped Ganassi reach the special road/street course session when he drove for the team in 2007 and 2008.

"Obviously, Dario and I were extremely disappointed to not qualify better at Long Beach," Dixon said. "It was just really difficult for some reason to get the proper speed out of the cars that we're used to seeing on a weekly basis. Dario obviously had the mishap with the wall and I didn't have the car where it needed to be, but the silver lining is that I think both Target cars will be fast in the race. We'll use the morning warm-up to focus on consistency over the bumps in the course. That's the biggest thing I think we needed to work on. Don't count us out."

[+] EnlargeWill Power
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillWill Power's ability to not burn through his tires may have made the difference in his winning the pole for Sunday's Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Tony Kanaan said the absence of the familiar Team Target drivers was indicative of the strength of the series, especially on street courses.

"The series this year reminds me back in the '90s when we had a bunch of good guys," said Kanaan, who will start sixth in the race Sunday. "So when you make the Fast Six, it don't matter if you're first or sixth, you're definitely happy."

No one could be happier than Power, who did not burn a set of softer red tires in the opening session, which left him a set of stickier tires for the third session around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile layout. He was the only driver to have those tires, and his time of 1 minute, 9.318 seconds was four-tenths faster than Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay at 1:09.75. Justin Wilson, driving for small-budget Dreyer and Reinbold, was third in 1:09.793.

"I think the difference is, you put that perfect lap together and you used to think in your head, 'I'm in,'" Hunter-Reay said. "Now you're on the radio, 'Am I in, am I in?'"

Power averaged 102.206 mph, Hunter-Reay averaged 101.573.

"We weren't brave enough or bold enough, I don't even think we were strong enough, to save that red set until the end," Hunter-Reay said. "But we were happy. That's why [Power's] leading the championship."

In spite of the dominance of Penske's team -- Helio Castroneves was fourth and Ryan Briscoe fifth -- all six drivers who competed in the final session talked about how tough the series is, even though Power won the first two races and Castroneves last week at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

"In another year I could have been on pole quite easily, with the way this car's handled today," Wilson said. "But you just can't afford to make any slight mistake or, like Will did, you've got to take every chance you get. I'm optimistic for tomorrow. We'll just keep our head down and decide which of the Penskes we're going to follow on strategy because one of them always seems to get it right."

Power was the polesitter at Long Beach last year and finished second. He won the race in 2008 driving for Team Australia in the final race of the Champ Car World Series. But after failing to win his third race to start the season last week when his team opted for a three-stop strategy -- and still finished fifth -- Power said that strategy was key this weekend too.

"We've got to get the strategy right this weekend," he said. "I know it's really hard to read, but we need to keep executing in races."

Vasser wins celebrity race

Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 CART champion whose last professional race came on the streets of Long Beach, won the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race when he passed former "Beverly Hills 90210" star Brian Austin Green on Turn 1 of the last lap. Tanner Faust, another professional drift racer, took third overall and first in the celebrity category. Drag racer Marty Nothstein was fourth overall, and actor Adrien Brody was fifth.

"This group of guys and girls, they were fast in practice," said Vasser, who won the 1996 Grand Prix of Long Beach. "When I came up on Green and Brody, I haven't seen guys battle it out like that in a long time."

The last time Vasser raced at Long Beach, in his final champ car race, he was involved in a first-lap crash in Turn 1.

Hinchcliffe wins Indy Lights pole

James Hinchcliffe won the pole position for the Firestone Indy Lights race, which will be run Sunday before the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Hinchcliffe had a best lap time of 1 minute, 14.6260 seconds. The four drivers finished within four-tenths of each other. Following Hinchcliffe in qualifying was J.K. Vernay, Charlie Kimball of Camarillo, and Sebastian Saavedra, who drives for team owner Bryan Herta of Valencia.

Tracy to make Indy return

Paul Tracy, the controversial second-place finisher to Helio Castroneves in the 2002 Indy 500, will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway driving for KV Racing Technology. Tracy anticipates another announcement there that he will participate in the two Canadian races, all with Geico sponsorship.

He was running fourth last season at Indy before falling to ninth after running over debris from another crash; that deal was a one-week program that was put together about a week beforehand, so Tracy is optimistic he can put together an even stronger run this season. "We really want to focus on what's best for race day," Tracy said.

Fast laps

•  Alex Tagliani may have suffered a left wrist and thumb injury when he got his hand caught in a paddle shifter when his car made contact with the wall Friday. Still, Tagliani turned in one of the best performances by qualifying seventh for the Grand Prix. "It's sore, but not as sore if I would be at home watching on TV," Tagliani said.

•  Swiss rookie Simona de Silvestro will start 13th for Team Stargate World/HVM. Danica Patrick will start 20th. It is an especially disappointing showing for Patrick, the fourth member of Andretti Autosport; Hunter-Reay is second, Kanaan is sixth and Marco Andretti is ninth.

•  Milka Duno, who continued to be slower than the Indy Lights drivers, did not go out for qualifying. Because she was in Group 2 in qualifying, which is assigned an even-number starting position for those who don't advance out of the first qualifying session, she will start 24th instead of last.

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