Scott Dixon has claimed his second pole position of the 2011 IndyCar season, snatching top spot on the Motegi grid from championship contender Will Power, who lost out on top spot by the barest of margins in qualifying for the championship’s final appearance (for now) on Japanese soil.
Crucially for Power, his main championship rival Dario Franchitti suffered difficulties in qualifying, being knocked out in the second phase of the session. The Scot will start from ninth position.
It is just the second time all season that Power has been denied pole position on a road course circuit; incidentally, it was Dixon who last managed the feat, snatching pole last month at Lexington. Dixon also went on to claim victory that weekend…
Power opted to hold off attempting a hot-lap early in the final ‘Fast Six’ session. Ganassi driver Graham Rahal – fastest in his first group and in the second phase of qualifying – was the first to lay down a serious benchmark, clocking a 1:38.6055. He later beat that be mere fractions, posting a 1:38.5946.
Dixon then posted a time good enough for provisional pole – a 1:38.4027 – just as Power finally got going on his hot lap attempt. Power’s first lap of 1:38.4194 fell fractions short of claiming pole, and he was unable to improve his lap time on his next tour of the Twin Ring road course. Dixon put the matter beyond question when he lowered his own time by posting a 1:38.3918.
Team Penske had all three of its drivers represented in the top six of the grid; Ryan Briscoe finished fourth-fastest (one behind Rahal), while Hélio Castroneves was sixth-fastest. The pair sandwiched the ever-impressive Newman/Haas rookie James Hinchcliffe.
For Franchitti – who lies just five points ahead of Power in the championship race – his ninth place on the grid is his worst qualifying result in almost 18 months, although in his fairness it was a closely-fought qualifying session, with just a 1.1-second spread covering the entire 26-car field.
Also just failing to make the ‘Fast Six’ cut were rookie drivers Charlie Kimball (Ganassi) and James Jakes (Dale Coyne), who each achieved the best qualifying performances of their brief IndyCar careers.
The top-twelve was completed by Marco Andretti – enjoying unusually good qualifying form if his 2011 form has been anything to go by – Takuma Sato and IndyCar debutant João Paulo de Oliveira.
Andretti was the only member of his four-car team to make it remotely close to the midfield, with his team-mates Ryan Hunter-Reay (17th), Mike Conway (20th) and an increasingly disinterested NASCAR-bound Danica Patrick (23rd) continuing the team’s patchy qualifying form.
For the first time this season, the grid boasted two Japanese drivers on the grid, and with Takuma Sato lining up 11th, his compatriot Hideki Mutoh was a further eleven places behind in 22nd.
2011 Indy Japan The Final Qualifying Results:
|1.||Scott Dixon||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||1:38.3918||(Fast Six)|
|2.||Will Power||Team Penske||1:38.4194||(Fast Six)|
|3.||Graham Rahal||Service Central Chip Ganassi||1:38.5946||(Fast Six)|
|4.||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||1:38.7082||(Fast Six)|
|5.||James Hinchcliffe||Newman/Haas Racing||1:38.9226||(Fast Six)|
|6.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||1:38.9743||(Fast Six)|
|7.||Charlie Kimball||Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing||1:38.7911||(Round 2)|
|8.||James Jakes||Dale Coyne Racing||1:38.8198||(Round 2)|
|9.||Dario Franchitti||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||1:38.8738||(Round 2)|
|10.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||1:38.9058||(Round 2)|
|11.||Takuma Sato||KV Racing Technology Lotus||1:38.9194||(Round 2)|
|12.||João Paulo de Oliveira||Conquest Racing||1:39.0009||(Round 2)|
|13.||EJ Viso||KV Racing Technology Lotus||1:38.9562||(Group 1)|
|14.||Sébastien Bourdais||Dale Coyne Racing||1:38.7495||(Group 2)|
|15.||Alex Tagliani||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||1:39.0409||(Group 1)|
|16.||Oriol Servià||Newman/Haas Racing||1:38.7719||(Group 2)|
|17.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||1:39.0750||(Group 1)|
|18.||Giorgio Pantano||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||1:38.8588||(Group 2)|
|19.||JR Hildebrand||Panther Racing||1:39.2650||(Group 1)|
|20.||Mike Conway||Andretti Autosport||1:38.9371||(Group 2)|
|21.||Ana Beatriz||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||1:39.4724||(Group 1)|
|22.||Hideki Mutoh||AFS / Sam Schmidt Motorsports||1:38.9407||(Group 2)|
|23.||Danica Patrick||Andretti Autosport||1:39.4789||(Group 1)|
|24.||Vitor Meira||AJ Foyt Enterprises||1:39.3269||(Group 2)|
|25.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology Lotus||1:39.5004||(Group 1)|
|26.||Simona de Silvestro||HVM Racing||1:39.3440||(Group 2)|
[Images via IZOD IndyCar Series]