Defending IndyCar Series champion and outside title contender Will Power has earned his sixth – and perhaps most crucial Verizon P1 Award of the season ahead of Sunday’s title-deciding 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma finale.

Power broke the track lap record in the Firestone Fast Six shootout for pole with a 1:16.259, earning him his 42nd career pole and putting him fifth overall on the all-time list. Out of six times this year where the qualifying lap record has been broken thanks to the radical new aero kits being run, Power has achieved the feat four times.

“I’m really stoked. I love qualifying and very happy to end the year with a pole position,” said Power, who has won pole position here five times in the last six events. “[There are] lots of points on the table; we’ll go for that win.”

Four of the six drivers in mathematical contention for this year’s championship crown will start in the top six positions for Sunday’s 85-lap race, including CFH Racing’s Josef Newgarden, who lines up alongside Power on the front row.

“Getting pole would have helped a lot more. It is worth points and its double points this weekend,” said Newgarden, already a two-time winner this year, but considered a remote chance at the title as he sits 87 points off the championship lead.

“We’ve got a really good car. We’re hoping to have a good race. It starts with qualifying and we did a pretty decent job there. If we keep clean, we have a shot at winning.”

Andretti Autosport Honda-powered #28 entry Ryan Hunter-Reay – who has bounced back from a poor start to the year by winning two of the last three races – qualified third-fastest alongside Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud.

Championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya qualified fifth-fastest in his Team Penske Chevrolet, sharing the third row of the grid with his main championship rival Graham Rahal.

Not known for being a strong qualifier, it marked the first time since 2011 at Motegi that Rahal has managed to run in the Firestone Fast Six session. Rahal will still need for Montoya to have a poor weekend in order to be in with a shot of claiming a maiden championship title for himself.

“[If] we finish third; fourth, fifth it becomes obviously a bit more difficult because you’re banking on Juan finishing twelfth or worse. I don’t think that’s likely.”

Lap times in qualifying were aided by new primary and option Firestone tyres that feature softer compounds with improved grip levels around the 3.57-kilometre circuit, although in the softer tyres will suffer high degradation due to the hot track and ambient temperatures at the Californian circuit.

The two other championship contenders – Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) and Hélio Castroneves (Team Penske) – will both find their own championship hopes even slimmer after poor qualifying sessions. Dixon qualified ninth-fastest, while Castroneves couldn’t even make it beyond the opening group phases of qualifying and lines up fifteenth.

With overtaking extremely difficult around this undulating and twisty circuit, neither is expected to make much of an impact.

Sunday’s 85-lap race gets underway at 2:07pm local time (GMT-5).

2015 IndyCar Series GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma – Qualifying Results
Grid ‘Fast Six’ Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap
1. Will Power au Team Penske 1:16.2597
2. Josef Newgarden us CFH Racing 1:16.3964 + 0.1367
3. Ryan Hunter-Reay us Andretti Autosport 1:16.5254 + 0.2657
4. Simon Pagenaud fr Team Penske 1:16.6683 + 0.4086
5. Juan Pablo Montoya co Team Penske 1:16.8437 + 0.5840
6. Graham Rahal us Rahal Letterman Lanigan 1:17.1769 + 0.9172
Grid ‘Top 12’ Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap*
7. Charlie Kimball us Chip Ganassi Racing 1:16.6669 + 0.1098
8. Marco Andretti us Andretti Autosport 1:16.8710 + 0.3139
9. Scott Dixon nz Chip Ganassi Racing 1:16.9677 + 0.4106
10. Sebastián Saavedra co Chip Ganassi Racing 1:17.1596 + 0.6025
11. Tony Kanaan br Chip Ganassi Racing 1:17.2899 + 0.7328
12. Carlos Muñoz co Andretti Autosport 1:17.3302 + 0.7731
Grid ‘Group 1’ Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap***
13. Luca Filippi it CFH Racing 1:17.1077 + 0.2658
15. Hélio Castroneves br Team Penske 1:17.2550 + 0.4131
17. Ryan Briscoe au Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 1:17.4886 + 0.6467
19. Oriol Servià es Andretti Autosport 1:17.5724 + 0.7305
21. Gabby Chaves co Bryan Herta Autosport 1:17.7994 + 0.9575
23. Tristan Vautier fr Dale Coyne Racing 1:17.9876 + 1.1457
Grid ‘Group 2’ Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap**
14. Mikhail Aleshin ru Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 1:17.3885 + 0.8183
16. Sébastien Bourdais fr KV Racing Technology 1:17.4310 + 0.8608
18. Takuma Sato jp A.J. Foyt Racing 1:17.5599 + 0.9897
20. Stefano Coletti mc KV Racing Technology 1:17.8293 + 1.2591
22. James Jakes uk Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 1:17.8698 + 1.3266
24. Rodolfo González ve Dale Coyne Racing 1:18.3867 + 1.8165
25. Jack Hawksworth uk A.J. Foyt Racing 1:19.0408 + 2.4706
  • * Denotes gap to fastest ‘Top 12’ qualifying session time of 1:16.5571 posted by Will Power. Fastest six qualifiers progress to the ‘Fast Six’ shootout for pole position.
  • ** Denotes gap to fastest ‘Group 2’ qualifying session time of 1:16.5702 posted by Will Power. Fastest six qualifiers progress to ‘Top 12’ stage, with the remaining drivers occupying the odd-numbered grid positions 14, 16, 18, etc.
  • *** Denotes gap to fastest ‘Group 1’ qualifying session time of 1:16.8419 posted by Simon Pagenaud. Fastest six qualifiers progress to ‘Top 12’ stage, with the remaining drivers occupying the even-numbered grid positions 13, 15, 17, etc.

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Michael Terminello

Journalist at MotorsportM8