Marco Andretti has secured pole position for the season-ending IndyCar Series round at Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway in California, an event which will determine who out of Will Power or Ryan Hunter-Reay will win their inaugural championship title.
While the 500-mile race will be run under floodlights, the qualifying session was held in vastly different conditions, with the drivers faced with bright sunshine, warm track conditions, and fierce crosswinds which conspired to upset their cars’ handling.
Anretti’s qualifying slot came relatively early in the session when the wind conditions were perhaps at their best, but that didn’t stop the American – who has endured a rather poor 2012 season, it has to be said – from having a wild moment on his second flying lap.
He pipped Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe for top spot by the equivalent of just 0.0032 seconds, with the Australian starting one spot ahead of countryman and team-mate Will Power, who is perfectly positioned to claim championship glory after several seasons as the bridesmaid to outgoing champion, Dario Franchitti.
However, Power’s joy will prove short-lived. The championship aspirant is one of a mammoth fourteen drivers hit with a ten-place grid drop for an unauthorised engine change. The penalty puts him down to the seventh row of the grid.
However, it’s not all bad news for Power. His only championship rival, Ryan Hunter-Reay, also faces his own ten-place grid hit, and he’ll start well down the order after a poor qualifying performance that saw him manage no better than the seventeenth-quickest time.
All of the grid penalties mean that Tony Kanaan (KV Racing) and JR Hildebrand (Panther Racing) are promoted to the second row, while the third row of the rolling grid will be occupied by Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing) and Rubens Barrichello (KV Racing).
All eyes will be on the mid-pack to see who out of Power or Hunter-Reay will emerge triumphant. Power currently holds a 17-point championship lead over Hunter-Reay, meaning he will claim the championship title if any of the following happens:
he finishes the race ahead of Hunter-Reay
he finishes in third place and Hunter-Reay wins. However, if Hunter-Reay has also led the most laps during the race, then they will tie on points and Hunter-Reay will win the title
he finishes in second place or higher
2012 IndyCar Series MAV TV 500 Fontana Final Qualifying Results:
* Denotes ten-place grid penalty for an unauthorised engine change