Will Power and his No. 12 Team Penske Chevy crew benefited more than anyone in the Firestone Fast 6 qualifying rounds yesterday. Initially, he did not make it through the first round, running 7th quick in the first group of 11 cars. However, after a conversation between him, Tim Cindric and the IndyCar race stewards, Power was allowed to advance. The argument was that SPM driver, James Hinchcliffe, impeded Power’s lap when he spun on track, causing a local yellow. Hinchcliffe had run the 4th fastest lap in the first round and was not too happy (to put it lightly) about the post-run penalty.
He’s been under the microscope over the last week it seems, receiving a post-event infraction penalty this past Wednesday regarding his domed skids at the Texas continuation last Saturday. That penalty drew $20,000 out of the SPM Racing team pockets and also cost 25 points for both driver and entrant totals – taking Hinch out of contention for the Championship.
The IndyCar rule book clearly states in Rule 126.96.36.199 that “if a Car causes a Yellow Condition that interferes with the qualifications attempt of another Car, the Car’s best timed lap during that segment shall be disallowed.” Hinch does not see the relevance here as his spin didn’t cause debris or contact and he was able to continue on, so that rule is not giving him any comfort with having to start P13 today, commenting after the session:
“It was an incredibly frustrating day at the office. Honestly, the spin is irrelevant. We’re not advancing because of the decisions INDYCAR made. It’s just really disappointing. We put a lot of work into the Arrow Electronics car and made it a lot better from yesterday and we had P4 in that session. The guys did such a good job and we’re going to be starting way further back than we deserve to be for really no reason. The next step is to make a wicked fast race car and pass them all.”
I was actually wondering if he would be fined further, for the disparaging remarks he made about IndyCar not being able to read their own rule book, in the heat of the moment. We certainly hope that is not the case, but given how his luck has been lately, nothing would surprise me.
The second penalty came in Group 2 of Round 1, when Graham Rahal qualified P6 out of the remaining 11 cars, but lost his two fastest laps due to an interference with Jack Hawksworth. This moved Hawksworth and his No. 41 AJ Foyt Racing Honda into the Fast 12 and ended qualifying for the No. 15 crew at RLL Racing.
Rahal also thought it was a faulty call and will start in the second to last row from P20 tomorrow:
“I’m very disappointed with the ruling. We obviously have a fast race car but we’re going to have to put our heads down and try to come from behind. There is a lot of work to be done. We will give it all we can to try to come up with good strategy to help us make our way to the front.”
There are not a lot of passing opportunities at Watkins Glen International, so these starting positions are very important and outside of a pit strategy well-timed with the inevitable yellows today, the starting grid could be telling of the podium and Top 10.
No one was more upset and blatantly irritated by these qualifying penalties than Mikhail Aleshin. Even though he starts higher up than any of the other penalized drivers, he arguably had the most to lose by his supposed infraction.
The most recent IndyCar contest (not counting the resumption in Texas) was at Pocono Raceway, and that’s where Aleshin earned his first career pole. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver of the No. 7 SMP Honda was looking for two in a row and did clock the 6th fastest lap in Round 2, advancing him to the Firestone Fast 6, and the opportunity to go for P1. That is, until the stewards reviewed the session and decided that Aleshin interfered with one of Juan Pablo Montoya’s laps. Aleshin lost his two fastest times, which according to the Russian, were identical. This moved Will Power up into P6 for Round 2 results.
The first discussion point here is that I have yet to understand, and I am not alone, how Aleshin “interfered” with Montoya’s lap when he clearly was on the inside of the corner and had even moved up onto the curbing to ensure he wouldn’t be in the way of the No. 2 that was in the midst of a fast lap. It is unclear if Aleshin was slowing to head back to the pits or if he was trying to earn some space between himself and the other cars in order to attempt a fast lap of his own, without traffic. Regardless of the reasoning, I can’t fathom how this impeded Montoya in any way.
That brings us to the second point of discussion – as I watched qualifying from pit lane on my Verizon Moto Z Force, with the IndyCar Mobile app open, I noticed something when watching the leaderboard page. That portion of the app gives you the track layout and shows you the placement of every single car in the field. For the majority of all the Rounds, the cars seemed to all be on top of each other and all on the same half of the track at any given moment. This seems silly when you have a 3.37 mile road course but Will Power and other drivers commented on it being an unavoidable problem given the current road and street qualifying format.
Each session consists of only 10 minutes. This does not get altered based on the length of the course and maybe that is something that should be taken into consideration going forward. Power certainly believes that it should be changed, and said some commendable things, especially given that he benefited so much from the penalties yesterday:
“…Just need to extend the qualifying time because everyone comes in and does their two laps, and they all go out at the same time…I think just a little bit more time in the qualifying session, and you could pick better gaps and there would be less penalties.”
This fact also puts an additional stress on the points-leading team of No. 22 on Team Penske, since Power was supposed to start alongside teammate Simon Pagenaud in Row 4, based on the initial results of Round 2. Pagenaud has his work cut out for him today, since he needs to finish in front of Power in order to maintain his points lead heading into the season finale at Sonoma Raceway in just 2 weeks.
Power will start in Row 1 today, alongside polesitter, Scott Dixon. Dixon came out victorious three years in a row at Watkins Glen, starting in 2005 and is looking to earn a fourth win at the beloved New York circuit this afternoon. Power has his own agenda, as he has won 4 of the last 6 races with the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway being the most recent and here’s a fun fact for you: he is also the defending IndyCar race winner at The Glen, having won the race in 2010.
Verizon IndyCar Series track times for the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen at Watkins Glen International:
Friday, September 2nd:
Practice #1 – 11:00 – 11:45 a.m. ET
Practice #2 – 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. ET
Saturday, September 3rd:
Practice #3 – 11:00 – 11:45 a.m. ET
Qualifying: 3:00 – 4:15 p.m. ET
Sunday, September 4th:
Warm Up – 10:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. ET
IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen – 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The race will be broadcast live on NBCSN.
Qualifying will be livestreamed. It will also be broadcast as a tape delay on NBCSN at 6:00 p.m. ET.
Practice sessions will be livestreamed.
All links to livestream and IndyCar radio coverage is available here.
Hinch and Power photos by Chris Owens / IndyCar
Dixon photo by Shay Hazen / Live Full Throttle