Team Penske came up just short in its pursuit of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach pole position Saturday, but if recent history is any indication, the team will be in prime position for a race victory when the green flag flies.
Teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves both qualified for the Firestone Fast Six, with Power earning a third-place starting position and Castroneves securing a sixth-place starting spot. AJ Allmendinger had the ninth-fastest lap in his group during the first qualifying round and will start 14th on Sunday.
Power, the defending Long Beach race winner, was clocked at 67.3987 around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile circuit in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. Power unfortunately was unable to record his planned fast lap as the checkered flag flew before he could start his third lap in the Firestone Fast Six.
“Yeah, it was good, obviously, to get to the Fast Six, and then just how qualifying is at the moment. We got caught out at the end there,” said Power, who managed to win the race from a 12th-place starting position in 2012 despite qualifying second when he and the other Chevrolet drivers took 10-grid spot penalties after changing out engines. “Tim (Cindric) came over the radio and said that you’re barely going to make one more lap. I thought he meant fuel, not time, but it was time. So I got to the start of my last lap, and it was checkered flag. But still, I’m happy with third.”
The current IZOD IndyCar Series championship leader, Castroneves turned a lap of 67.9698 in the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner has now qualified eighth or better in his last four races at Long Beach.
“We made some adjustments to the Auto Club Team Penske Chevrolet between the sessions today and improved quite a lot,” said Castroneves, who won the 2001 Grand Prix of Long Beach from the pole. “It’s a shame because I felt that I had a better car than sixth. I’m not complaining, being top six is great, but I just want to make sure we get everything we can out of the car because it is so competitive here.”
Allmendinger, in his second race driving the No. 2 Penske Automotive Dallara/Chevrolet, had a fast lap of 1:09.2001 in the first qualifying session.
“Tough day for the No. 2 Penske Automotive Chevrolet,” said Allmendinger, who competed at Long Beach three times previously and recorded a top-10 finish in 2005. “We thought we had the car in a pretty good place going into qualifying but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get out of it what I needed. I know that Will won the race last year from 12th so that gives us some hope that we can move up through the field tomorrow and hopefully be competitive.”
Power, who also won the Grand Prix of Long Beach in 2008, will start inside the second row and alongside Takuma Sato and behind polewinner Dario Franchitti.
“It’s definitely a good starting position,” said Power. “I look for a good, solid race again tomorrow in the Verizon car.”
Sunday’s 80-lap Grand Prix of Long Beach is scheduled to begin at 4:45 p.m. ET with NBC Sports Network coverage beginning at 4 p.m. ET.