Aussie Will Powerhas finally broken Mario Andretti’s long-held pole record on the day he needed it most.
Power, now the greatest qualifier in IndyCar history, is one step closer to a second championship.
Power grabbed his 68th career pole with Andretti watching from pit lane on Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway. Andretti made his way to Power’s car and gave him a thumbs-up, while Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin hopped on the side of Power’s car to give him a high-five.
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“Didn’t even occur to me until they told me. I can’t celebrate so much because I’ve got to be ready for (the finale),” Power said, who won his fifth pole of the season to break the mark. He only needs to finish third or better in the race on Monday morning to clinch his second championship.
Andretti eventually made his way to the staging area where the Australian was being celebrated for the pole-winning run.
“I tell you, to see Mario Andretti walk up the pits and shake his hand, that’s something I’ll remember,” Roger Penske said, owner of Power’s car.
Andretti, who was also passed this year for second on the wins list by Scott Dixon, was pleased for Power.
“I know how much I love qualifying and he’s the same,” Andretti said. “It was coming. It’s beautiful. It’s great for the sport, and records are meant to be broken.”
Power, who was given a new hat that read “68 poles”, said the scene on pit lane with Penske and Andretti left him pinching himself.
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“I was actually standing there, I saw Roger there, I saw Mario there and all the cameras, I thought, ‘this is really surreal,’” Power said.
“It just blows my mind that I surpassed Mario and obviously I drive for Roger. Just to have those two legends there congratulating me, it’s real, and a lot of gratitude for the chances and the opportunities I’ve been given over the last decade and a half.
“Very fortunate, and I want to repay them back with a championship.”
The pole-winning run gave Power one additional point in the standings. The current IndyCar leader heads into Sunday’s finale up 21 points over both Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden and six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.
Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson is 40 points out and McLaughlin trails by 42 in what remains the closest IndyCar championship fight since 2003.
WIth the exception of Power, it was a fairly disastrous qualifying session for all the championship contenders.
The session fell apart almost instantly when Newgarden, a two-time IndyCar champion and winner of a series-high five races this season, went off at the corkscrew and found himself stuck in the gravel. He was penalized his two fastest laps, was not permitted to advance out of the first group and will start 25th on Sunday.
IndyCar extended the session to give the qualifiers a chance to complete one lap, but Scott Dixon failed to advance and will start 13th. McLaughlin and Ericsson advanced, but Ericsson spun in the second group and qualified 10th, two spots behind McLaughlin.
It made for a Fast Six final shootout that included Power, the Andretti Autosport pairing of Alexander Rossi and Romain Grosjean, as well as outgoing IndyCar champion Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP and rookie Callum Ilott.
Power had no trouble and nipped Ilott by 0.0193 seconds in Ilott’s best career qualifying effort.
“If I didn’t have lunch maybe I would have taken it away,” Ilott joked. “I think he needs it a bit more than I do, but I would love a pole. I’ll have to wait a bit.”
It was a breakthrough effort for Ilott, who drives for one-car Juncos Hollinger Racing, a startup that said this week it will expand to two cars next season.
Ilott’s next task is figuring out how to race points leader Power at the start on Sunday. Penske and Juncos are both Chevrolet teams, so both Power and Ilott joked that the rookie would run interference for Power.
“If they’re very nice to me, I might hold up the others,” Ilott said.
“It’s a Chevy, so I’m lucky in that respect. I’m going to tell him where I’m going to go so he can slip in behind me,” Power replied.
“I like steak,” winked Ilott.
Alex Rossi qualified third and was followed by Romain Grosjean, Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward.
Colton Herta qualified 18th for what could be his final IndyCar start, as the 22-year-old continues to be courted by AlphaTauri in Formula One.
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