Will Power’s late-season hot streak continued on Saturday at Portland as the Verizon IndyCar Series’ most recent race winner added his fourth pole of the year to his resume in a wild qualifying shootout.
The Team Penske Chevy driver (57.3467s) jumped ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi for pole in the final minute, and was soon joined by teammate Josef Newgarden in second (+0.3410s) who displaced Rossi to third (+0.3894s).
The big shock in qualifying went to championship leader Scott Dixon, who not only missed out on the Fast Six, but wasn’t even close to transferring. The Chip Ganassi Racing Honda driver secured 11th on the grid, nearly a half-second behind Power in the Fast 12 session.
In front of a big, enthusiastic crowd, the Indy 500 winner reinforced his determination to become a two-time IndyCar champion.
“I was very determined, just focusing on what I had which was to get pole,” Power said after earning his 54th pole, which moved him into second on the all-time IndyCar pole list. “That was the focus coming in: pole, win, pole, win, and then we can win the championship. If Dixon finishes ahead of us tomorrow, it’s over. That’s what we’ve got in our head.”
Newgarden was more encouraged for what his Penske Chevy could offer in the race than what was demonstrated in time trials.
“Second, it’s great, we’re on the front row,” said the reigning champion. “I have a suspicion we’ve built a better race car. Our car is quick, we have two Penske cars 1-2, so that’s OK.”
Rossi was resigned to watching the Penske team set the fastest laps, but took solace in out-pacing Dixon, who holds a 26-point advantage over the Andretti driver.
“We knew we were chasing [Power] to try and get pole,” Rossi said. “It’s an OK place to start. We’ll take it and Scott’s behind us, so that’s the one good thing today.”
Following a huge crash in the final practice session, Sebastien Bourdais’ Dale Coyne Racing team worked miracles to repair the heavy damage in order to make qualifying. Bourdais rewarded their efforts with fourth on the grid.
“The crew did an amazing job,” he said. “I’m still not sure what happened, but when I got out of that car, I didn’t see a chance we’d be back out there. Three crews from Dale Coyne Racing pulled it together. The car was just about as good as it was this morning. Hat’s off to the crew.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay and the rising Zach Veach completed the Fast Six for Andretti Autosport. Behind them, Dixon climbed from the CGR Honda with full knowledge he’ll have plenty of work to do if he wants to hold onto that championship lead.
“Just kind of missed it,” he said. “We went early just because we weren’t locked in, and then we had a car come out in [Turn 1], so we aborted the lap, and then we didn’t get the lap sequence right. It is what it is. It’s the same for everybody.”
Graham Rahal is vying for a top five in the championship, and after qualifying 10th, said he will do his best to secure a good finish while being a good citizen.
“It’s just ultra-competitive,” he said. “You gain a tenth, you gain four spots. We didn’t have enough in the heat. Starting 10th, we’ll put our heads down and try to stay out of the championship battle.”
Just outside of the Fast 12, Carlos Munoz did a solid job of securing 14th after going almost one year without competing on a road course.
“It’s a new car, new track, new team,” the Colombian said of his No. 6 SPM Honda. “My last time in a road course car was Sonoma, so for sure you feel it. It’s IndyCar. Everyone’s really close.”
DCR’s Pietro Fittipaldi qualified 16th, two spots ahead of teammate Santino Ferrucci, and lamented the formidable names he faced in his qualifying group.
“I felt good. The car was strong all through the weekend. We were put in a tough group there with all of the Penske cars; I’m disappointed we didn’t make it.”
And among those who were surprised to miss out on the Fast 12, Penske’s Simon Pagenaud struggled mightily on the way to 22nd out of 25 cars.