Helio Wins Pole At Barber

LEEDS, Ala. – Will Power set a Barber Motorsports Park course record of 1 minute, 9.8529 seconds in the Chevrolet-powered No. 12 Verizon Team Penske on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn circuit in Round 1 of IZOD IndyCar Series qualifications.

But the Australian-born/North Carolina resident, who won the 2011 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from the pole, will start ninth in the 90-lap race (2 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network). He had competed in the past 20 Firestone Fast Six sessions, which sets the first three rows, dating to the 2010 season.

Click it: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama starting lineup

If that’s not surprising enough, how about six different teams represented in the Firestone Fast Six? Or second-year competitor James Hinchcliffe starting on the front row? Maybe Mike Conway starting fourth, providing A.J. Foyt Racing with its best starting position since 2007 at St. Pete with Darren Manning? OK, then how about JR Hildebrand advancing to his first Firestone Fast Six? Finally, would you have wagered that reigning series champion Dario Franchitti would start 18th?

Yes, in this season of new car, new engines, new tire compounds – and mixing in a damp asphalt racing ribbon and interesting strategy in each timed session at Barber – parity is coming to the fore as veteran drivers predicted in the preseason.

Power, who earned the IZOD IndyCar Series Pole Award in the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg a week earlier, didn't qualify for the Firestone Fast Six -- breaking a streak of five races of starting on the front row of roads/streets.

The award went to Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves with a best lap of 1:10.4768 in the Firestone Fast Six. Castroneves was the 2010 winner at Barber and the race winner at St. Pete.

“We made some changes and that put us good for second qualifying,” said Castroneves, whose last pole was at Twin Ring Motegi in 2010. “In the end, Will and some other competitors not making it was tough and it is better being lucky than good.  The Firestone (alternate) red tires were great and have a lot of grip.  The Firestone tires were able to give me Top 6 and thanks again Firestone.”

Castroneves and Scott Dixon are tied with the most Firestone Fast Six appearances with 32.

Hinchcliffe, driving the No. 27 GoDaddy.com car for Andretti Autosport, earned his first front-row start.

“Obviously, a great start for us to be on the outside of the front row,” said Hinchcliffe, last season’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year. “It’s a great result after the way practice went (March 30) and being rained out, then being fogged out this morning, we only had 14 dry laps coming into qualifying.”

Dixon, the race runner-up at St. Petersburg, and Conway will share Row 2, while Hildebrand and Tony Kanaan will occupy Row 3.

“This is what we are trying to accomplish this year and we are trying to improve our road program,” said Hildebrand, driver of the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car who qualified 15th in his Barber debut last year. “Obviously, this is going a long way to show that we are getting there.”

E.J. Viso and Graham Rahal – both of whom had a previous best start at Barber of 10th -- are on Row 4, and Power will be joined by Simon Pagenaud on Row 5. Pagenaud, driving the No. 77 Schmidt-Hamilton HP Motorsports car, qualified 23rd last year at Barber in his IZOD IndyCar Series debut and finished eighth.

Power, who was quickest of the 26 competitors in practice March 30, was ninth in the second qualifying session. He completed only two laps (best of 1:12.0098) and was on a potential quick lap before a yellow and then red flag were shown with about 2 minutes left for the stalled car of Ryan Hunter-Reay (spun in Turn 9 and made light contact with the right-side wall) that completed the session.

IZOD IndyCar Series Race Director Beaux Barfield said Power went through the yellow flag area -- passing Hunter-Reay's car -- so the lap was not allowed (rules state that drivers can't set their fast lap under yellow/red).

“It’s a pretty frustrating qualifying result,” Power said. “Man, we had a great Verizon car. We had a good first session and we were ready to fight for the pole. It’s definitely going to be tough starting ninth, but we know we’ve got a fast car. We have to have a good start and be strong on the restarts and hopefully work our way up front.”

Hunter-Reay was third on the time chart when the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda car for Andretti Autosport spun.

"I got too greedy. With the level of road racing talent we have in the IndyCar Series right now, you have to go for it and push to the limit of yourself and your car if you want to be in the front," said Hunter-Reay, who finished third at St. Petersburg. "We didn't have a very good day of practice (March 30), but we found what was slowing us down, so the car was fast today and I think we were on a pace to get into the top six.

"Qualifying is all about being a hero or a zero, and we were going for it. I feel bad for the team and for DHL and Sun Drop, but I was going for every little bit in turns 8 and 9, and it just snapped loose."