Power breaks track record again in winning sixth St. Petersburg pole position
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 12, 2016) – Will Power’s qualifying dominance on the streets of St. Petersburg can’t be stopped even by illness.
Battling a stomach virus, Power broke the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg track record in each of the first two segments of knockout qualifying and then turned the best lap in the Firestone Fast Six to collect the Verizon P1 Award. The sixth St. Pete pole position puts Power at the front of the pack for the 110-lap race on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit, as the Verizon IndyCar Series drops the green flag on the 2016 season March 13 (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
Power, who set the track record of 1 minute, 0.6509 of a second (106.841 mph) in 2015 qualifying, toppled the mark in the first segment today with a lap of 1:00.5678 in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. He advanced to the Firestone Fast Six with another record-setting lap of 1:00.0658 (107.882 mph) using a new set of Firestone alternate tires.
While he didn’t quite match that effort in the final segment, Power’s lap of 1:00.2450 (107.561 mph) was nearly two-tenths better than anyone else in the Firestone Fast Six and easily good enough to secure the 43rd pole of his career, fifth on the all-time Indy car list. It also led a Team Penske sweep of the first four St. Pete starting positions for the second straight year.
“What a great run today for the Verizon Chevy team,” said Power, who won the St. Pete race in 2010 and 2014. “It’s an awesome feeling to be able to put the new-look Verizon car on pole again here at St. Pete.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been feeling pretty ill all day,” he added. “It was a struggle to get through qualifying, honestly, but we were able to do it and after the Verizon P1 Award presentation I just started feeling a lot worse.
“The car was great today and a big credit to the guys for doing a terrific job in qualifying. I’ll try to get some good rest tonight and come back ready to race on Sunday.”
Simon Pagenaud, in the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet, will start second following a lap of 1:00.4421 (107.210 mph). Three-time St. Pete winner Helio Castroneves qualified third in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:00.4995, 107.108 mph) and defending race winner Juan Pablo Montoya fourth in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:00.5312, 107.052 mph).
“Great effort for the whole organization,” Castroneves said. “To have 1-2-3-4 again, it shows we’re really working together as a team. We want to win as a team and we’re going to keep pushing. Great effort for Team Penske.”
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was the top non-Penske qualifier, fifth in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (1:00.5395, 107.038 mph).
“Good to see Chevy (sweep) the top five,” Dixon said. “Sad to see the first four being Penskes. That’s the way it is.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay, in the Andretti Autosport No. 28 DHL Honda, was sixth (1:00.8803, 106.438 mph).
“It’s been very tough for us, to tell you the truth,” Hunter-Reay said, “but we pulled it together, found some speed in qualifying. It’s tough to be happy with sixth, but we’re slowly talking ourselves into it. We salvaged something today.”
Twenty-two cars qualified for the race, 12 using Honda engines and aero kits and 10 with Chevrolet. A 30-minute warmup session at 9 a.m. ET March 13 precedes the race. The warmup will stream live on racecontrol.indycar.com. In addition to ABC, the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network will air the race on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile App.
Team Penske adds seventh winner’s plaque to St. Pete monument
It’s become nearly an annual tradition for Roger Penske to visit the Victory Circle monument at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Juan Pablo Montoya delivered the seventh Team Penske win on the streets of St. Petersburg in 2015, so he and Penske attended a ceremony this morning to affix Montoya’s name to the monument’s wall of winners.
Montoya joins Helio Castroneves (2006, 2007, 2012), Ryan Briscoe (2009) and Will Power (2010, 2014) as Penske drivers to win on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit – all in the last 10 years.
“It’s an honor to see all of these plaques representing wins by so many of our drivers,” Penske said. “It’s a great team effort. … Certainly this is a place where we have had a lot of success and we’re hoping we can continue this weekend.”
Not usually one to gush over ceremonies, Montoya could appreciate the significance of his name being placed alongside the other Penske drivers, as well as past winners Dan Wheldon (2005), Graham Rahal (2008) and James Hinchcliffe (2013). This year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be the 13th edition of the popular event, dating to 2003 when Paul Tracy won the Champ Car-sanctioned race.
“You don’t realize little things like (the wall of champions) go a long way for the future and it’s cool,” said Montoya, driver of the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “Now we’ve got to go back and focus on what we do. This year you want to keep it up and do the best you can. It doesn’t mean you’re going to go out there and win every race, but you still want to. We’re going to try.”
Mazda Road to Indy starts season in high gear
The three Mazda Road to Indy series kicked off their 2016 seasons, with Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires each conducting the first of two weekend races at St. Petersburg while the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda ran both of its weekend events.
In Indy Lights, Felix Serralles took his second career win and the third straight Grand Prix of St. Petersburg triumph for Carlin Motorsport in the opening race of a doubleheader weekend to start the season. Starting seventh, Serralles quickly forced his No. 4 car into second place, following Zach Veach to the front on the first lap.
When the engine on Veach’s No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15 suddenly shut off on Lap 18, Serralles screamed past and never looked back. The native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, drove flawlessly in the final 13 laps and took his first win since Milwaukee last year by 5.5336 seconds over Scott Hargrove of Team Pelfrey.
“I just had to keep everything clean,” Serralles said. “Qualifying didn’t really go to plan, the red flag really hurt our session.
“It was a good result. I just tried to do everything right, minimize any mistake and save the Cooper tires. I could push to catch Veach, but my front tires were going away. I’m just really happy to get my first win to start the year.”
In Pro Mazda, 16-year-old Pato O’Ward led wire-to-wire to claim his first series win by 2.70 seconds over Team Pelfrey teammate Aaron Telitz.
“I’m just speechless,” said O’Ward, the 16-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico. “I’m so happy for the team. The Pelfrey car was absolutely on rails, it was fantastic. … Everybody did such an amazing job and such hard work through the days coming to St. Pete. This one is definitely for them.”
Pabst Racing teammates Jordan Lloyd and Yufeng Luo each claimed victory in a same-say doubleheader of races to start the USF2000 season.
Lloyd backed up his first career pole from the day before by winning his first race in the Priority Main Construction Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Later in the day, Luo made the pass for the lead on a late restart to win the Hi-Tide Boat Lifts Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The two races kicked off the 2016 USF2000 season.
“I had no idea that I was going to be able to get by those guys at the end,” Luo said. “Opportunity came and I took it. I’m just speechless right now.”
ESPN hosts international journalists at St. Pete
In addition to producing Verizon IndyCar Series broadcasts airing in the United States on ABC, ESPN distributes race telecasts through a combination of ESPN networks and syndication to more than 198 countries and 103 million homes around the world.
In an effort to build interest in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil this May and the Verizon IndyCar Series in Europe, ESPN International brought a group of eight journalists to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend for an immersion into the sport. The journalists are from Italy, The Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain, all countries where Verizon IndyCar Series races will be telecast this year.