Team Penske’s Hélio Castroneves has secured pole position for Sunday’s MAVTV 500 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. The Brazilian’s main championship rival, points leader Will Power, ‘choked’ in the session and starts from 21st position.

Castroneves was the last driver to attempt his two-lap dash around the superspeedway and earned the Verizon P1 Award – along with a crucial championship point – with the fastest average speed of 218.540mph (351.706km/h).

The Brazilian veteran set an incredible 219.127mph (352.650km/h) opening lap, dropping to 217.956mph (350.766km/h) on his second tour, which was enough to give him the prime starting position for the 250-lap race. It was Castroneves’ 41st pole position, drawing him level with Rick Mears in fourth place on the IndyCar Series’ all-time pole-winners list.

“It ain’t over, it’s just the beginning,” said Castroneves as he looks ahead to tomorrows 250-lap decider. “Our job is to be aggressive over the 500 miles and finish where we started.”

Castroneves sits just 50 points behind Power. The Brazilian could win the title with a victory if Power finishes eighth or lower before bonus points are added, or if he finishes second and Power finishes 16th or worse. Castroneves can also win by finishing in third if Power fails to improve on his starting position.

Three additional points are on offer, one for one lap led and two for the most laps led. If Castroneves can gain all bonus points, he can still win the title with as low as a third place finish.

Power certainly made Castroneves’ life easier with a terrible qualifying performance. The Australian has fluffed his chances of a maiden IndyCar Series crown on three previous occasions at Fontana, and certainly looked like making it a fourth with a wobbly showing over his two laps. His opening tour was a woeful 210.770mph (only Carlos Huertas was slowest, and by some margin!), but he improved somewhat with a 214.678mph second lap.

“With the starting position, I’d rather start at the very front or at the very back to stay out of trouble early on,” Power rather optimistically said afterwards. “It’s obviously all about the race, it’s very long and we’ll be racing in very different conditions.”

Fellow championship aspirants Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud will start from ninth and thirteenth places, respectively.

Up at the front, Castroneves shares the front row of the grid with teammate and fellow South American Juan Pablo Montoya, while the evergreen Josef Newgarden claims the outside position on the front row in what will be the final hit-out for the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team before it merges with Ed Carpenter Racing.

AJ Foyt’s Takuma Sato, outgoing IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) and his teammate Charlie Kimball round out the second row of the grid.

2014 IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 – Final Qualifying:

Driver Team / Entry Avg. Speed
1. Hélio Castroneves Team Penske Chevrolet Chevrolet 218.540mph
2. Juan Pablo Montoya Team Penske Chevrolet Chevrolet 217.621mph
3. Josef Newgarden Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda Honda 217.600mph
4. Takuma Sato A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda Honda 217.323mph
5. Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet 217.057mph
6. Charlie Kimball Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet 217.017mph
7. Tony Kanaan Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet 216.857mph
8. Mikhail Aleshin Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda Honda 216.726mph
9. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport Honda Honda 216.305mph
10. Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda Honda 216.299mph
11. James Hinchcliffe ca Andretti Autosport Honda Honda 215.898mph
12. Ryan Briscoe Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet 215.878mph
13. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda Honda 215.752mph
14. Ed Carpenter Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet 215.326mph
15. Sébastien Bourdais KV Racing Technology Honda Honda 214.713mph
16. Justin Wilson Dale Coyne Racing Honda Honda 214.486mph
17. Jack Hawksworth Bryan Herta Autosport Honda Honda 214.173mph
18. Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport Honda Honda 214.109mph
19. Carlos Muñoz Andretti Autosport Honda Honda 213.991mph
20. Sebastián Saavedra KV Racing Technology / AFS Racing Honda Honda 213.981mph
21. Will Power Team Penske Chevrolet Chevrolet 212.604mph
22. Carlos Huertas Dale Coyne Racing Honda Honda 202.319mph

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Michael Terminello

Journalist at MotorsportM8