MONTEREY, Calif. – With 14 seconds left, Will Power was able to leap-frog past rookie driver Callum Ilott to win a record 68th career NTT IndyCar Series pole on Saturday for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.
Not only did Saturday’s pole at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca break a tie with Mario Andretti for most poles in IndyCar history, but it also gave the Team Penske driver one more point toward the series championship.
He increased his lead to 21 points over Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden and six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.
“The record didn’t even dawn on me because I was so focused on the point for the championship,” Power said. “It blows my mind that I have one more pole than Mario Andretti.
“I’ve been really focused. It’s hard work, the whole team.”
Andretti congratulated Power in the pole celebration.
“You know how much I loved qualifying, and you can see that he’s the same,” Andretti said. “It was coming and that is beautiful and it’s great for the series, great for the sport, records are made to be broken.
“Lead the first lap, then lead the most laps to get more points than finish ahead of the two closest competitors.”
Power was quickly greeted by two “Mount Rushmore of Motorsports” figures.
“When I saw Mario there before I got out of the car, I thought this is really surreal,” Power said. “I’m very fortunate and want to pay them back for everything they have done for me.
“A day you will remember for sure. It’s a day I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Team owner and IndyCar owner Roger Penske also took part I the celebration on pit lane.
“To see Mario Andretti, walk up the pits and shake his hand is something I’ll remember,” Penske said. “He’s a class guy over the years. To see Will put it down and put it down and put it down, he’s a real winner.
“What we have done this year has been terrific. We’ll see what happens on Sunday.”
Power won the pole with a best time of 1:11.6127 around the 1-turn, 2.238-mile road course in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet for Team Penske.
“That was the focus, to get that point for the pole in the championship and we ticked that box,” Power said. “We ticked another box by breaking a tie with Mario Andretti.
“I want to give my boys their best. They have given me their best all season and I want to give them the championship.”
Rookie driver Callum Ilott was second in the No. 77 Chevrolet for Juncos-Hollinger Racing for his best starting performance of his career. His fast time was 1:11.6329.
“Maybe if I hadn’t had lunch, I would have been light enough to get the extra speed to win the pole,” said Ilott, who admitted he had pasta earlier in the day.
Alexander Rossi was third in the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts/Auto Nation Honda for Andretti Autosport at 1:11.7698 followed by teammate Romain Grosjean’s No. 28 DHL Honda at 1:11.7858.
Alex Palou’s No. 10 NTT Data Honda was fifth at 1:12.1625 with Pato O’Ward’s Chevrolet rounding out the Fast Six at 1:12.4542 for Arrow McLaren SP.
Power was the only one of the five drivers who remain eligible for the championship who had a successful qualification session. The other four drivers had issues in the previous rounds.
None were bigger than Newgarden’s major moment with 4:35 left in the first segment. He lost control of his car entering the Corkscrew. He went backwards and the car was hung up on the hill and the track surface without the front tires touching the ground.
“We’re done. We’re done,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric told Newgarden over the radio. “We can’t advance out of this round and we’re going to lose our two fastest laps.”
Newgarden will start 25th in the 26-car field.
“It’s not over yet, but it’s unfortunate for us to make a mistake like that,” Newgarden said. “It didn’t put us in a good position for tomorrow, but we will make the most of it.”
Another championship contender who will start deep in the field is Dixon, who will lineup up 13th at 1:12.1722 when he did not advance out of the first round of his segment.
“It will definitely be interesting,” Dixon said. “The 14 (Kyle Kirkwood) never really went. We’re starting in the middle there and the starts are always interesting. It’s going to be a different race than we saw last year.
“It’s not over until it’s over but congrats to Will. He is great in qualifying and congratulations.”
Newgarden and Dixon are now 21 points behind Power. Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing lines up 10th at 1:12.1359 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. He is now 40 points out of the lead.
Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske is now 42 points out of the lead and will start eighth at 1:11.6916 in the No. 3 Chevrolet for Team Penske.
Another major surprise in qualifications was Colton Herta going off course into the gravel pit early in the second group. He was able to keep going but, the driver who won the last two poles and the last two races at Laguna Seca will start 18th in the No. 26 Honda with a time of 1:12.2720 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
The 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship will be decided in Sunday’s race. It will be televised on NBC beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.