Will Power's name might evoke quick one-liners, but his rivals aren't laughing. They're too busy dealing with how Power, for now at least, is the best IndyCar driver in the business.
The 29-year-old Australian won two of the first three races in the Izod IndyCar Series this season and is a favorite again Sunday in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, having won the pole position Saturday — his third consecutive pole. He also won the race two years ago when Indy-style racing was still split into two factions.
They've since reunited and now Power, awarded a full-time ride with the premier team of Penske Racing this season, sits atop this year's IndyCar championship standings by 32 points over his teammate, Helio Castroneves, and by 42 over reigning title holder Dario Franchitti.
Power captured the No. 1 starting spot for Sunday's race with a lap of 102.206 mph on the 11-turn, 1.97-mile street circuit along the Long Beach shoreline. Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified second at 101.573 mph, while Justin Wilson was third and Castroneves fourth.
"We certainly have the car figured out . . . we've got to get the [race] strategy right," Power said. "We need to keep executing in races."
Franchitti, the defending race winner, qualified 12th in the 25-car field, while promising rookie Simona De Silvestro was 13th. Danica Patrick, IndyCar's most popular driver, will start 20th.
The first three races of the season were on street or curvy road courses, as is the Long Beach race; the series then moves to oval tracks for four races, where Power has less experience than drivers such as Castroneves, Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon.
But Power, who finished fifth in last year's Indianapolis 500 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, and team owner Roger Penske see no reason why Power should lose momentum on oval tracks, starting with the May 1 race at Kansas Speedway and then this year's Indy 500 on May 30.
"He's going to have to learn some things on the ovals" but if Power "has a solid race at Kansas, he'll be ready to go to Indy," Penske said. "If the car is good, he'll have an excellent chance."
Power first arrived at Penske a year ago to temporarily replace Castroneves while the Brazilian driver was facing a tax-evasion trial. After Castroneves was acquitted, Power continued driving selected events for Penske and won the race at Edmonton.
Then in August, Power broke his back in a practice crash before the race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. Penske Racing President Tim Cindric said that setback made Power — who's already known for having an intense resolve — even more determined to succeed in 2010.
"Having spent four months on his back recovering after Sonoma, I'm quite sure all he thought about was the opportunity to do this again," Cindric said. "I think that has a lot to do with his initial success this year."
After qualifying sixth, driver Tony Kanaan was asked to comment on Power's surge this season. Replied Kanaan: "We wake up every day thinking about it."
In the American Le Mans Series race, Simon Pagenaud of Patron Highcroft Racing — who shares the car's driving duties with David Brabham — passed Aston Martin's Adrian Fernandez on the last lap to win the top-tier LMP prototype class. Co-drivers Patrick Long and Joerg Bergmeister of Flying Lizard Motorsports won the GT class in their Porsche 911.
Actor Brian Austin Green was the winner among the celebrities in the Toyota pro/celebrity race, while former driver and now IndyCar team co-owner Jimmy Vasser won the professional class.
Veteran driver Paul Tracy, who doesn't have a full-time IndyCar ride this season, said he would race in this year's Indianapolis 500 in a car prepared by the team KV Racing Technology. Tracy nearly won the Indy 500 in 2002 but finished second.
Will Power wins third consecutive IndyCar pole
The 29-year-old Australian had a qualifying lap of 102.206 mph to take the No. 1 starting spot for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
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