MONTEREY, Calif. — Will Power broke Mario Andretti’s record for poles on the day he most needed a big run and took first place on the grid at Laguna Seca for the IndyCar season finale.
The biggest qualifier in IndyCar history – and championship leader – is now one step closer to a second championship.
Power clinched his 68th career pole while Andretti watched from the pit lane at Laguna Seca Raceway on Saturday. Andretti made his way over to Power’s car and gave it a thumbs up, while Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin hopped to the side of Power’s car to give it a high-five.
INDYCAR AT LAGUNA SECA: Details to watch Sunday on NBC
“Didn’t even cross my mind until they told me. I can’t celebrate as much because I have to be ready for (the final),” said Power, who won his fifth pole of the season to break the mark.
Andretti eventually made his way to the staging area where the Australian was celebrated for pole winner.
“I’m telling you to see Mario Andretti walk up the pits and shake his hand, I’ll remember that,” said Roger Penske, owner of Power’s car.
Andretti, who was also passed by Scott Dixon in second place on the list of winners this year, was happy for Power.
“I know how much I love qualifying and he’s the same,” said Andretti. “It came. It is wonderful. It’s great for sports and records are meant to be broken.”
Power, who received a new hat that read “68 rods,” said the pit lane scene with Penske and Andretti was “surreal.”
“At such a crucial point I couldn’t celebrate it very much and I don’t want to spend too much energy because I have to conserve it,” Power said. “When you have those kinds of characters congratulating you, pinch yourself.”
The pole-winning run earned Power an extra point in the overall standings. The current IndyCar leader heads into Sunday’s finale with a 21-point lead over Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden and six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson is 40 points clear and McLaughlin is 42 points behind in what remains the closest IndyCar championship race since 2003.
It was a pretty disastrous qualifying session for all championship contenders except Power.
The session broke up almost immediately when Newgarden, a two-time IndyCar champion and winner of five races this season, went off course with the corkscrew and got stuck in the gravel. He was penalized for his two fastest laps, was not allowed to get out of the first group and will start 25th on Sunday.
“I just made a mistake. It’s frustrating,” Newgarden said. “I think we have the fastest car in the field. But it’s a bummer, it’s a bummer for everyone. It’s not over yet, but what just happened isn’t ideal.”
IndyCar extended the session to give the qualifiers a chance to complete a lap, but Dixon got stuck and will start 13th. McLaughlin and Ericsson advanced, but Ericsson spun in the second group and qualified 10th, two places behind McLaughlin.
It made for a final Fast Six shootout involving Power, Andretti Autosport duo Alexander Rossi and Romain Grosjean, and outgoing IndyCar Champion Alex Palou and Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward and rookie Callum Ilott.
Power had no trouble, beating Ilott by 0.0193s in Ilott’s best qualifying performance of his career.
Rossi qualified third followed by Grosjean, Palou and O’Ward.
Colton Herta, the two-time defending champion from pole, came off the course and qualified 18th. It’s quite possible that the 22-year-old Californian will mark Herta’s last IndyCar start on Sunday is courted by AlphaTauri in Formula 1.
Here’s the IndyCar grid for Sunday’s Monterey Grand Prix at the 2.238-mile WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and speed):
1. (12) Willpower, Chevrolet, 01:11.6127 (112.505)
2. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 01:11.6320 (112.475)
3. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:11.7698 (112.259)
4th (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:11.7858 (112.234)
5. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:12.1625 (111.648)
6. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:12.4542 (111.199)
7. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 01:11.6295 (112.479)
8. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:11.6916 (112.381)
9. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:11.7285 (112.324)
10. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:12.1359 (111.689)
11. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 01:12.2808 (111.465)
12. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 01:12.8856 (110.540)
13. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:12.1722 (111.633)
14. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:12.1442 (111.676)
15. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:12.2661 (111.488)
16. (30) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 01:12.2093 (111.576)
17. (14) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 01:12.4299 (111.236)
18. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:12.2720 (111.479)
19. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:12.5970 (110.980)
20. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 01:12.2996 (111.436)
21. (45) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:12.8366 (110.615)
22. (51) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:12.4489 (111.207)
23. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 01:13.4172 (109.740)
24. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 01:12.8001 (110.670)
25. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, No Time (No Speed)
26. (16) Simona De Silvestro, Chevrolet, 01:13.5181 (109.589)
Laguna Seca Grid: Will Power Passes Mario Andretti for Record Pole originally appeared on NBCSports.com