Detroit — Team Penske drivers proved they are ready to run up front this weekend in the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit IndyCar doubleheader on Belle Isle.
After two rounds of qualifying on the 2.3-mile road course, the four drivers from Team Penske moved on to battle Sebastien Bourdais and Takuma Sato in the Firestone Fast Six on Friday afternoon to find out who would win the pole position for today's Race No. 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.
In the end, defending series champion Will Power of Team Penske broke the former record set last year by Sato at 1 minute, 16.1371 seconds. Power put together a lap of 1:16.094 in the final minute in his No. 1 Verizon Chevrolet, topping his Penske teammate Helio Castroneves (1:16.120), who also bested Sato's former mark.
Records were supposed to be set this weekend with the new aero kit and track improvements, which included resurfacing with concrete instead of asphalt that allowed for better grip and faster speeds.
Last year, Power won Race No. 1 with Castroneves winning Race No. 2 and Power finishing second.
"It is actually satisfying," Power said of winning his first pole on Belle Isle. "I'm really excited to be on the pole. It's actually quite fun. The cement is a bit more slippery and you get to move the car around a little bit more and I think they did a great job of this whole circuit.
"We definitely took a bit of a risk in the second round to get through by using used tires, just made it (into Fast Six) by a 10th (of a second). I had new tires (in Fast Six) so I felt like you could only get a couple of laps out of them. You may as well go out when the track is good at the end. The biggest difference is between the red (new tires) and black (old tires) and that really mixes things up, but you know, the good thing about this track is you can pass."
Power waited until the final two minutes of the Fast Six session to take the track, then made the most of his time with the new tires. Many drivers had trouble in Turn 3, but Power was able to work through the corner to get his record-setting lap in.
"Actually, I had a couple of big moments too," Power said of Turn 3.
Castroneves was thrilled with his run.
"The Hitachi Penske car was really good," he said. "We used new tires in the second stint and Will didn't so they used them (new tires) in the third round and we didn't. So, that's how amazing our car was.
"Being that close with tires that already had a run on them, it was absolutely amazing. The No. 1 car (Power) was a little bit better on the strategy and having new tires for that last run."
The second row will be made up of Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya (1:16.442) of Penske and Sato (1:16.536), with Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud (1:16.665) and Bourdais (1:17.040) in the third row.
Montoya said the track is still bumpy.
"To tell you the truth, you probably hear other people complain about the bumpiness of the track, but it reminds me of the '99 and 2000 season with the street courses that had a lot of personality," Montoya said. "There's a couple of good bumps, makes it a little tricky, but has a lot of character."
Oh, and on that Turn 13 where they widened the corner by six feet to make it faster with better opportunities to pass heading into the start/finish line?
"That last corner now, man it's fast," Montoya said. "Too fast."
Sato wasn't so thrilled with the course, especially with Turn 7 and 13.
"Definitely, the bumps waked me up this morning," Sato said. "Turn 6 and 7 there was significantly improvement in terms of grip (with new concrete), but the bumps really made it difficult. But braking into Turn 7, there is one big bump, everybody bottoming out so that's real tricky to overtake.
"Then, in Turn 14 (actually 13), just in front of the main straight, there is a big bump. Really, it's going airborne. I'm thinking about if it's two-wide on the start, for the outside guy is going to have to suffer a little."
Among the top six drivers, only Sato competed with Honda power.
Heavy rain hit the island a couple of hours before qualifying, but the sun came out just before the two rounds and then Fast Six sessions.
Castroneves felt fortunate with the new concrete surface.
"I'm glad it was concrete, asphalt would have taken forever to dry and I was in the first group," noted Castroneves.
Josef Newgarden, 24, slammed into the barrier at the exit of Turn 13 which caused heavy damage to the left rear of his No. 67 Hartman Oil Chevrolet. He won earlier this season at Alabama, but will be starting near the back of the field.
Rain is in today's forecast and that could cause problems for the drivers.
"I think the hardest thing is if it's a wet, drying track because then you have to decide on slicks or wets and it makes it really hard honestly to decide what to do," Power said. "You have to decide do you want to run wet tires or dry tires. It's going to play havoc."