INDIANAPOLIS – Call it “Penske perfect.”
Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power have swapped Verizon P1 Awards throughout the first five races of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. However, Team Penske hasn’t seen a pole in the Indianapolis 500 since 2010.
Ironically, it was Castroneves and Power who ran 1-2 in qualifying that year.
Since debuting his team at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1969, team owner Roger Penske has captured a remarkable 16 victories with 11 drivers, 17 poles (six with Rick Mears, most all-time) and 43 front-row starts. Team Penske also owns a rare accomplishment when it swept the front row in 1988 with Mears, Danny Sullivan and Al Unser.
With cars fully trimmed out with their aero packages and receiving an extra turbocharger boost of power, speeds over the four laps of qualifying can exceed 230 mph.
It is that combination that makes it hair-raising for even the most talented drivers in the world. It’s no different for three-time Indy 500 champion Castroneves, who will try for the 50th pole of his sparkling 20-year career this weekend in qualifications for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
Castroneves and Power make up two-fifths of the potent Team Penske contingent this month, along with two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud and team newcomer Josef Newgarden. All five drivers, as well as the team owner and Mears, met with media this morning.
Castroneves has collected four Indy 500 poles himself and referred to a line from Mears when talking about qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Again a quote from Rick, there are two kind of races here. It's the actual 500 (race) and the pole day,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet. “And the pole day, to be honest, it's thrilling,
“There is a lot in hand. Over the years they changed a lot of the rules, but even with that, it's still very, very challenging. You put 33 drivers running to the limit. We're talking about knife edge. We're going through four corners for four laps and absolutely doing everything you can to hang onto the last lap or the last two laps, basically, because you're running so low downforce.
“Any kind of a wind or distraction, it becomes very difficult to drive the car for those four laps. So that's the intensity of the pole day, which is fun. I have to say it's a lot of fun. There is a lot of strategy as well and I enjoy it very much.”
Should Castroneves win the May 28 race, he would tie A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Mears with four victories. He would also break a tie with Mears as Penske’s winningest driver with 30.
Power has never won the pole for the Indy 500, but has momentum in his favor coming off a weekend sweep at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, which gave Team Penske its 250th pole and 190th Indy car win. Both are Indy car team records.
“It's a fantastic start to the month,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “It always helps, all the guys on your car, and obviously gives the drivers some confidence. But you quickly forget about that weekend and move on to the process of understanding and getting a good race car for the 500 because that's the most important thing.
“It gives you the opportunity to maybe sweep the month. That would be fantastic.”
For Mears, although engineering and evolution have advanced in Indy car competition, qualifying in the Indianapolis 500 is still known as the fastest and most demanding four laps in all of racing.
“The basics are still there,” said Mears, the four-time Indianapolis 500 champion who retired in 1992 and now serves as Castroneves’ spotter. “The basics are always the same. It's how do I get through that corner faster than everybody else?
“And to get that, you've got to get all four footprints on the ground working the best they can, get the thing turned out as best you can, get it up on its tiptoes.
“If it's sitting down solid on the track, to me, there's more left on the table. You have to get it up on tiptoes, up on the right rear, freed up and hold your breath. And if you can hold your breath a little longer than the other guys and make it out the other side, you're fortunate, you've done your job.
“I think the basics are still the same today as it was a long time ago. And that's what you're always trying to achieve to do.”
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