Powers earns third IndyCar pole of season

LEXINGTON, Ohio — Dario Franchitti was talking about how much fun he had in steering an IndyCar around the tight turns and narrow straightaways at Mid-Ohio during Saturday’s qualifying. It wasn’t easy, though.

“I’m glad to see everybody’s sweating here, and it’s not just me,” Franchitti said with a grin.

Just then, fellow driver Will Power walked into the room and, not skipping a beat said, “I’m not.”

The line provoked loud laughter, but it was also indicative of how dominant Power was in his Penske Chevrolet over the twisting, 2.25-mile, 13-turn road course nestled in farmland between the state’s two biggest cities, Cleveland and Columbus.

Power, ranked as the best in the series on road courses, collected his third pole of the season (St. Petersburg and Brazil). He was timed in 1 minute, 5.6474 seconds, well ahead of second-place Franchitti and rookie Simon Pagenaud.

“I really felt I got everything out of my car,” Franchitti said. “I thought it was a fast lap — and then I saw Will’s. That wasn’t in our car today.”

It was the 27th career IndyCar pole for Power, tying him with Al Unser Sr. for ninth in the record books.

Even Power was overwhelmed by how fast his car was.

“There was a lot of energy in that lap,” he said of qualifying. “It’s so bloody quick around here. Man, I got out of the car and I felt dizzy.”

A good qualifying position means everything at Mid-Ohio, a narrow layout that isn’t conducive to passing. A pole-sitter in a good car can fend off challenges all day.

Maybe that’s why IndyCar introduced a 5-second delay for its push-to-pass system at the track this weekend. Drivers can hit the overtake assist button before getting to a braking zone, then will be given extra power when they reach full throttle.

Power said the new rule might force him to try to pad his lead early instead of just hoping to hold off pursuers.

“Yeah, the five-second delay definitely makes it harder to defend (the lead),” he said. “It’s good because it promotes passing, but if you’re a leader, it’s bad. It probably gives a driver more incentive to pull a gap early in the race on the first lap, to prevent that.”

Franchitti said it’ll just be another reason for drivers to grouse.

“It’s going to help passing,” he said. “It’s one of those things where we’re going to be (ticked) off if we’re the ones getting passed and we’ll be happy if we’re the ones doing the passing. The usual stuff.”

Pagenaud will go from the best starting position he’s had in IndyCar this season.

“I’m really, really happy with the car. Tomorrow should be an exciting day,” he said. “Hopefully the weather stays nice. If it rains, then rain hard.”

Thunderstorms are predicted to hit throughout the day on Sunday. Inclement weather can be a wild card, giving everyone a chance instead of just the fastest cars and drivers.

“We’re looking forward to tomorrow,” said Scott Dixon, who qualified fifth but moved up a spot when Alex Tagliani was dropped 10 spots on the grid for an unapproved engine change. “It could be kind of crazy with the weather.”

Of course, Dixon looks at almost everything that happens at Mid-Ohio as a benefit. After all, he has won three of the last five IndyCar races on the track.

Ryan Briscoe, who will start fifth, said the weather can create a lot of problems on a tight road course.

“Certainly around this place, you want to be concentrating pretty hard to keep her on the road,” he said.

Series points leader Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified eighth. Helio Castroneves, winner of the last IndyCar race two weeks ago in Edmonton, also was dropped 10 spots for making an engine change and will start 23rd.

Power will be going for his fourth win of the season — but first since winning three in a row in April. After that hot streak, he’s had four finishes outside the top 10 and his best has been a third-place. He finds himself third in the driver standings behind Hunter-Reay and Castroneves.

“We’ve been doing everything we can to see if we can get (that turned around),” he said.

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