INDYCAR Grand Prix front-row starters looking for elusive win

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INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – They’ve alternated sharing the poles for all five Verizon IndyCar Series races this season, but Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves have experienced radically different results entering the INDYCAR Grand Prix today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

While Castroneves has been a consistent finisher with a pair of fourths, a sixth and ninth place in the first four races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, Power is trying to excavate himself from what was the worst three-race start to a season in his stellar career. Before finishing second in the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix on April 29, Power sputtered out of the gate with a 19th, 13th and 14th.

That’s despite Power being the Verizon P1 Award pole winner for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and Honda Grand Prix of Alabama. He was on the verge of winning the latter race before a left rear tire puncture forced him to pit with 13 laps to go.

James HinchcliffeINDYCAR GRAND PRIX: Starting lineup/tire designation

Starting on the pole today, from where he won this road course race in 2015, Power is in an advantageous position to build momentum and climb back into points contention as everyone pursues defending series champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske. Power sits seventh, 68 points off the pace, and was quickest in this morning’s final practice for the 85-lap race.

Although in the same comeback spot as a year ago, when he rallied from missing the season opener to finish second in the points, Power, 36, learned from that experience the importance of not panicking.

“You can’t have that feeling of urgency,” Power said. “It never works out. Just got to try and get the most out of each race and not even think about competition until later in the year.

“Made that mistake last year here, that feeling of I’ve got to — if I don’t close that gap now — and it wasn’t true. I closed the gap in the middle of the season, and if I’d had a reasonable race here, I’d have been right on top of things going into the last race. Yeah, just got to be smart about it.”

Pagenaud, whose No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet will start seventh today, won this race last year for the second time. Castroneves was second and Power finished 19th.

On Friday, Power set a track record in his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet with a time of 1 minute, 7.7044 seconds, which translates to a speed of 129.687 mph.

Next to him on the front row is the No. 3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet driven by Brazilian Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner but also a hungry driver looking to snap a 48-race winless drought that extends to 2014. Both drivers have 29 career wins, tied with Team Penske driver coach Rick Mears for 11th on the all-time list.

“There’s nobody in front of me, that’s great, so we’re looking forward to a good start,” Castroneves said.

Mayhem can occur at the outset when too many cars try to squeeze into Turn 1 on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. Last year’s opening mishap included Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, two of the most decorated racers in today’s field with four season championships apiece. Dixon and Ganassi teammate Tony Kanaan came together in Turn 1, which led to Kanaan banging into Bourdais. Dixon salvaged seventh place, but Kanaan finished last in the 25-car field, and Bourdais was 24th.

Dixon’s No. 9 NTT Data Honda will start fourth today, two positions ahead of Bourdais, who is driving the No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

“You just don’t hit each other,” Dixon said, smiling, when asked about Turn 1. “I think Helio has hit me a couple times, Turn 1 here.”

Dixon and Castroneves were involved in a Turn 1 incident involving multiple cars at the start of the 2015 race. Castroneves rallied to finish sixth, and Dixon was 10th.

“You’re going into a very quick braking zone, and then it’s easy to try and pick somebody up at the start, so everybody thinks that’s the time to do it,” Dixon said.

INDYCAR Grand Prix fast facts:

Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, a 2.439-mile, 14-turn permanent circuit; this will be the fourth Verizon IndyCar Series race on the circuit

Race distance: 85 laps / 207.315 miles

Green flag: 3:50 p.m. ET

Race fuel: 75 gallons of Sunoco E85R ethanol

Defending race winner: Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske

Telecast: 3 p.m. ET, Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network; 3:30 p.m., ABC

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