BALTIMORE, MD—Will Power's quest to clinch the IZOD IndyCar Series championship this weekend moved one step closer Saturday by winning the pole for the Grand Prix of Baltimore on a day when more cars got off to a "Flying Start" on the treacherous Pratt Street Straightaway of the street course.
This time, it was the curbing that was installed to create a Chicane in an attempt to slow down the cars from hitting a crest on Pratt Street that sent Simon Pagenaud's Dallara/Honda off the ground in Friday's practice. The curbing actually launched several cars into the air including Graham Rahal's Dallara/Honda that came dangerously close to hitting the opening in a safety wall similar to Mark Martin's crash in a pit road opening at Michigan International Speedway in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race two weeks ago.
Pagenaud also brushed the wall after losing control in the first qualification session and although he was among the fastest six drivers out of the first group was unable to continue in the second qualification round because the damage to the left rear of his car could not be repaired in time.
Justin Wilson crashed his Dallara/Honda when he lost control exiting the Chicane in the second group of qualifiers. Mike Conway made contact with the barrier after the checkered flag came out for the Firestone "Fast Six" session but was credited with a second-place qualification time. However, he will move back 10 positions on the starting grid Sunday because of an earlier penalty for an unapproved engine change.
The Chicanes should be called "Calamity Corner" because drivers in every other series competing on the 2.04-mile 13-turn temporary street course also crashed in that area including Firestone Indy Lights driver Emerson Newton-John and Zach Veach in the Star Mazda Championship race.
Newton-John was transported to University of Maryland-Baltimore Medical Center for further evaluation.
All of that made the IZOD IndyCar Series "Drivers Meeting" quite lengthy late Saturday afternoon as they wanted additional changes made to the Pratt Street straightaway portion of the course.
"We're reviewing all of our options but I haven't made a decision yet which way we want to go," INDYCAR President of Competition told Fox59.com after the meeting. "The drivers spoke about several possibilities including moving the Chicane and the walls but I have to go back and decide what we want to do."
Barfield and his crew oversaw the installation of the current Chicane on Friday evening in a lengthy process that lasted hours while an asphalt crew built the curbing into the race course. Conservative estimates on such a project are $30,000 for the materials, construction crew and equipment. And consider that as soon as the race is over, the curbs for the Chicane must be removed when the streets are turned back over to the City of Baltimore which turns it back into a public thoroughfare on Monday morning.
But through all the mishaps caused by the tricky course layout, Team Penske driver Will Power proved once again why he is the "King of the Road" by scoring the fifth pole of the season and the 29th of his IndyCar career, which ties him with Dario Franchitti for eighth on the all-time list. Power's other poles in 2012 have come at St. Petersburg, Brazil, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma. It was his third-straight pole this season.
Power's pole winning time was 1:17.2709 for a speed of 111.116 miles per hour around the 2.04-mile, 13-turn course.
By winning the pole, Power gets one more point toward the season championship and now leads Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport by 37 points. Hunter-Reay starts all the way back in 13th place after his qualification session was shortened because of Rahal's crash. Hunter-Reay was waiting until the end of his session to lay down his hot lap but never got the opportunity when the clock ran out with Rahal's car still on the course.
"It was just minimal time on the track the last couple days," Power said. "We knew we had a pretty good setup. I was a little worried after practice we were only 15th, only got a couple laps. I was determined to get pole. I needed another point toward the championship, definitely helps. Starting at the front lowers the percentages of getting involved in an incident in the first lap.
"We need to focus ahead now. We got that out of the way and see what we can do tomorrow."
Power was one driver that had no problem with the Chicane.
"The way they built it, it was very easy to pick up," Power said. "I suggested that they put tires on the inside so you can't just run over them. You feel obligated, too, because other people are. So you feel like if you want to get through each round, you've got to attack that bloody chicane, take a risk.
"It's just a quick thing that was put in. It's a third-gear corner now. It's not bad."
Conway is credited with second place after running a lap at 1:17.4347 (110.881 mph) in a Dallara/Honda but will move back 10 positions because of the 10-grid spot penalty. Scott Dixon was third at 1:17.7497 (110.431 mph) in a Dallara/Honda but will move up to the front row because of Conway's penalty.
Dixon enters Sunday's race fourth in points, 55 behind Power. If he leaves Baltimore more than 53 points behind Power he will be eliminated from the championship.