Will Power puts Chevrolet on Front Row for Season Opening Verizon IndyCar Series Race

Will Power puts Chevrolet on Front Row for Season Opening Verizon IndyCar Series Race
Firestone Grand Prix on the Streets of St. Petersburg Kicks off the 17-Race Season

ST. PETERSBURG (MARCH 10, 2018) – Will Power will start the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet on the front row for the season opening race of the Verizon IndyCar Series on Sunday. Power, with a lap of one minute, 01.7346 seconds/104.965 mph, will make his eighth front row start on the on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course in the heart of St. Petersburg, FLA.

Three Chevrolet 2.2 liter twin turborcharged direct injected V6 drivers moved through the first two rounds of qualifying to make it to the Firestone Fast Six. Power moved to the top-spot in the order with seconds remaining in the session, but had to settle for second on the grid when rookie Robert Wickens (pole winner) grabbed the top-spot as time ran out.

Team Chevy rookie-of-the-year contender Matheus Leist,.No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing, posted a lap of one minute, 01.7631 seconds/104.9117 mph to finish third in the qualifying final order. Fellow Chevy rookie Jordan King, No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, posted the 4th fasted time to also secure a second row starting position.

As usual, qualifying on the St. Pete streets was drama filled with periods of off and on rain that made the track surface slippery. Numerous cars took off-course excursions during the sessions as the moisture took a toll on the grip level of the track.

Defending Series’ champion Josef Newgarden did not advance his No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet out of round one and had to settle for the 13th starting position on the 24-car grid.

Other Team Chevy drivers qualified as follows:
Gabby Chaves – 8th
Tony Kanaan – 10th
Simon Pagenaud – 11th
Spencer Pigot – 16th
Max Chilton – 20th
Charlie Kimball – 21st
Rene Binder – 23rd

ABC will telecast the 110-lap race on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit live at 12:30 p.m. March 11.


WILL POWER, No. 12 VERIZON TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 2ND: “It was really unpredictable, like how slippery the paint was. Turn 1 was the worst. But it got kind of quick at the end there apart from Turn 1 and the rest of the track was on. There’s no question. Starting up at the front is definitely better as far as getting through the first corner and that sort of thing. Obviously pole is the best position you can be in. It will be interesting–we don’t know how these cars race. I know they follow well, but I don’t think they draft that well. But very close.

Had a big mis-shift during my lap where I just got stuck in gear for quite a while, and then when I saw how tight it was, it was like, yeah, probably lost a tenth or so there”

“I’m very happy with the whole team and with our performance throughout the whole weekend. I’m looking forward to my first IndyCar race, my first time doing pit stops, saving fuel and saving tires, so I have a lot of things to learn yet. Tony is a very special guy, he’s been helping me a lot, not just inside the track but outside the track as well. And not just him, but A.J., Larry, and everyone on the team is helping me a lot because I’m a rookie. Tony is a very special guy and I’m super grateful to have him as a teammate. I grew up watching him and Helio so having him as a teammate is a dream come true for me.”

JORDAN KING, NO. 20 FUZZY’S VODKA ED CARPENTER RACING CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 4TH: “It’s good, but I still think we should have been a bit quicker! It was quite slippery at Turn 1, but I found quite a good way around there. Actually, at the back of the circuit, it was reasonably quite dry. Unfortunately, I almost went off at Turn 10 on my first push lap, so I came into there on my last lap a little bit tentative and looking at the times, that was the difference. But 4th, I can’t complain! I’m really happy. It’s all gone well, we’ve made some pretty good progress for my first time so I can’t grumble too much, but when there was potential to be a bit higher up, you can’t help as a racing driver but to want a bit more! I’m trying not to put too much expectation on tomorrow, we’ve got a good car, if I do my job I’m sure the rest of it will unfold quite nicely.”

GABBY CHAVES, NO. 88 HARDING GROUP HARDING RACING CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 8TH: “I am so proud of this team. Everyone has worked tirelessly this off-season to get here and I’m beyond happy that we were able to go out on track and qualify in the top-ten, especially after some of the issues we had after Practice 1 yesterday. This team works hard and I’m so excited to finally get to race tomorrow for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg!”

TONY KANAAN, NO. 14 ABC SUPPLY TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 10TH: “I am extremely happy with the team effort so far this weekend. We came here with the intention to put two ABC Supply Racing cars in the top 10 and we actually did one better, putting one in the top 10 and another in the top 3. I am looking forward to the race tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD, NO.22 MENARDS TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET. QUALIFIED 11TH: “Mother Nature kind of got us today. The Menards Chevy was really good for qualifying but in the second round we just didn’t execute with our tires the right way for the rain we saw toward the end. We should have put on the red Firestone tires early on and that would have helped in the end. Instead we struggled to stay on track when it was wet and we couldn’t advance. The good news is we feel really good about the car for Sunday’s race and the Menards guys will work to get us up to the front.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN, NO. 1 HITACHI TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 13TH: Not the best qualifying for us. Everyone picked up more than I thought they would but, for us, it just wasn’t enough. I didn’t do a good enough lap and it’s a shame we weren’t able to capitalize more in our first session for the year but I feel like we’ve got a great car. I’m really happy with the Chevy engine that we’ve got this weekend. I think we’ve got what it takes to win this race and it’s been fun driving the Hitachi car for the first time so, not the perfect way to start the weekend off, but I think we’ll have a good car.”

SPENCER PIGOT, NO. 21 AUTOGEEK ED CARPENTER RACING CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 16TH: “It was a messy session there with the red flag, then trying to find a gap to get a good lap in. I made a few little mistakes; one area, I accidentally upshifted twice when I should have only done once that that cost us. Overall, I am just frustrated. Hopefully we can get the Autogeek car back up front tomorrow where we need to be!”

CHARLIE KIMBALL, NO. 23 TRESIBA CARLIN CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED: “Our qualifying result might not have been exactly what we wanted, but at the same time we made progress every session on-track especially during qualifying. The No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet has run without any mechanical issues this whole race weekend so far and that’s a credit to the work of Trevor (Carlin), Colin (Hale), and all the mechanics at Carlin. We’re making progress, we’re learning. With new bodywork, there’s a lot to learn aerodynamically and mechanically for everyone. We’re making good progress and we’re learning quickly. I know we’ll be ready to put a good, clean race together tomorrow.”

MAX CHILTON, NO. 59 GALLAGHER CARLIN CHEVROLET, QUAIFIED 20TH: “That’s the end of our first INDYCAR qualifying effort for Carlin. Both cars made big improvements throughout the weekend. Every time we went out, we felt better about the car balance and overall performance. Both Charlie and I felt pretty happy with our laps, but we were just lacking the speed we needed to advance into the second round. We aren’t where we’d like to be quite yet, but the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet is now definitely in a place where I’m happy with the balance which gives us a good race car. I think we should do better in the race tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to green flag.”

RENE BINDEER, NO. 32 BINDERHOLT TIPTOP TIMBER JUNCOS RACING CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 23RD: “My first qualifying attempt in the Verizon IndyCar Series was most interesting, but challenging as it was more or less my first use of the Firestone red set. We used two sets of tires with only two push laps. My focus was on maintaining a decent pace and not to push it to the limit, and to also understand the course and get comfortable. We will continue to go over the data we gathered and focus on identifying a good race set up for tomorrow. ”

IndyCar Media Conference
Saturday March 10, 2018
Will Power
Jordan King
Matheus Leist
Fast Six Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Joined now by Will Power, driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, who will be starting second in tomorrow’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Will, oh, so close to your eight of the last nine poles here at St. Petersburg but still starting up front on the front row for tomorrow’s race. Will that help you in terms of leading throughout the race and not having to make your way up through the field but also just from what you’re expecting of the race, is that up-front starting position going to be key?

WILL POWER: Yeah, there’s no question. Starting up at the front is definitely better as far as getting through the first corner and that sort of thing. Obviously pole is the best position you can be in. But yeah, I mean, it will be interesting we don’t know how these cars race. I know they follow well, but I don’t think they draft that well. But yeah, very close.

Had a big mis-shift during my lap where I just got stuck in gear for quite a while, and then when I saw how tight it was, it was like, yeah, probably lost a tenth or so there. But yeah, fantastic job by Wickens, first time out, to get pole.

THE MODERATOR: We’ve been through several practice sessions, but this is the first qualifying session where we’ve had the 2018 car. I know we keep talking about it, but I think everyone is just so fascinated with how it’s going to be working in qualifying sessions and different types of tracks. Your impressions of its first qualifying session?

WILL POWER: Yeah, it was — the balance kind of surprised me a little bit for the first qualifying session. Obviously conditions are very tough there. But the car itself is a lot of fun to drive. You’ve really got to drive it and hang it out there to be quick. Definitely more spectacular for the fans, and it will be very interesting to see how it is here during the race.

THE MODERATOR: Takuma Sato joining us, starting fifth in tomorrow’s race, driving the No. 30 Mi-jack Panasonic Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. We spoke to you just a little bit earlier, but take us through your qualifying session and did things go according to plan? Obviously a great starting position for you tomorrow.

TAKUMA SATO: Yeah, I think it was a spectacular qualifying in terms of the fans, and I thought, too, it was really tricky conditions. I think it’s tricky enough to drive these cars, but having had it drizzling, especially towards the end of qualifying, it was challenging. But I think my thought was that the team did a tremendous job in the preparation for this race. We had a quite last practice session that never really got through clearly — how can I say? Planned it, but I think the qualifying we showed good speed, and in the end to make it into the Firestone Fast Six was a little bonus, so I’m really pleased.

Q. Will, did you pretty much feel you had the pole, and was it a big shock once Wickens’ number came up, because before that he had run like a 1.6?
WILL POWER: No, I was so slow at the beginning. I was wondering if it would even be — I’d just be sixth. But as the track dried, I got better. I thought I was pretty good on the last lap, apart from I had a very like stayed in the lunar a long time because I had a really big mis-shift, which cost me quite a bit, but the rest of the lap was really good. And yeah, it was — I mean, the track was basically dry everywhere except for Turn 1 at the end, so I kind of expected a lot of people to be up there. It’s a very, very tight field. I was actually happy to be on the front row.

Q. I was wondering from all three of you what we should make of three rookies making the Fast Six in their IndyCar debuts.
WILL POWER: Yeah, just shows kind of the parity, I guess, within the series, now that everyone has got the same body kit. You don’t really see anyone struggling. They’re all good guys. They’re all guys capable of winning races. Yeah, pretty impressive, though, all those guys up in front there, first time out. I think there’s three, right? Three of them in the Fast Six is very impressive.

Q. For the three veterans, I’m hearing that the cars slide around a lot, and I would think that would create a certain amount of tire wear. Do you think the tires are going to last through a full fuel stint?
WILL POWER: Yeah, that’s a good question. It feels like the rears would go off, actually, quite a bit. But yeah, I think we’ll know more in warm-up tomorrow, although it’ll be very cool, which really looks after tires. But yeah, I think there will be definitely more deg, it’s just a question of how much because the cars have less downforce.

Q. Since you’re the veterans, you’ve been here before. Let’s pretend it’s going to be dry tomorrow. Give me a number for cautions.
WILL POWER: Yeah, I think the last couple years of racing you couldn’t even get close, so there wasn’t any late moves. But I have a feeling with this car that tires will go off more and some cars will move forward and some will move back. Maybe there will be more yellows. Hard to say.

Q. Do you think that one of the reasons why some of the rookies might be having some better luck is that they don’t have to unlearn what they had with the old aero kit where they had so much downforce and then when you take all that off you have to get used to having less downforce on the car?
WILL POWER: I think it’s easier to get in the window with this car, to be honest. So yeah, I mean, none of the setups really cross over. Maybe a little bit. Yeah, it just seems easier — it’s harder to drive, but it’s easier to drive it because you’re a little bit more nimble and you can get away with a slide without losing a bunch of time. Yeah, it’s just the fact that everyone has got the same stuff makes it very competitive.

THE MODERATOR: We’ll welcome in our two new additions to today’s post-qualifying press conference. Joined by Jordan King, driving the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for the team. Jordan did set a new track record for the streets of St. Petersburg. That time is 1.0476 seconds. Jordan starting fourth in tomorrow’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Setting a track record, starting fourth in the race, did you expect to adjust so quickly to the series and the car?

JORDAN KING: If you asked me that question two months ago, probably not, and more because I didn’t know anything about the car other than speaking to engineers and other — Alex Rossi, Conor Daly, people I knew.

So yeah, two months ago, no, I had no expectations, but then slowly after driving the car, I started to realize that actually it’s not too dissimilar to what I’ve driven before, and I feel comfortable in the car. It’s not like it’s something where I need to learn everything again. Yes, there’s a few driving techniques that are different, but we’ve got a driver coach that’s helped with that, and the engineers have really helped with some more details of learning. But also the other thing that’s helped is they’ve trusted me, as well. They’ve let me kind of be myself and go forward with it.

THE MODERATOR: Also joined by Matheus Leist, starting third in tomorrow’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, driving the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. I was listening to your post-qualifying interview, and I think you used the words it’s a dream come true. Not a lot of drivers qualify third and say it’s a dream come true, but I know it has to be really exciting for you to get into the Verizon IndyCar Series and have such a great result for your first qualifying session.

MATHEUS LEIST: Yeah, definitely. I was racing in England two years ago and then last year came to race in Indy Lights and had quite a great season. The cars is completely different than anything that I had driven before, and then this year I made the step to the IndyCars. Yeah, I think I was expecting to be like top 10 but definitely not top 5, top 6, and the team just did an amazing job, and very happy for the performance throughout the whole weekend already, and looking forward to the race. It’s going to be my first race in IndyCar, first time doing pit stops, first time saving fuel and all this stuff, so a lot of things to learn yet, but hopefully we’re going to have a great time tomorrow.

Q. Matt, you’re the youngest driver in the series; you just mentioned all the firsts you’re going to go through tomorrow. How do you go out there today? What’s in your mindset? You’ve never done this before. And I guess for both of you, do you just go and attack it?
MATHEUS LEIST: Yeah, I think so. I’ve been doing some preparation with the team, with Tony, so he has been helping me a lot like throughout the past three, four months, and I think I’m feeling ready for tomorrow. I’ve done a lot of sim stuff, as well, so for sure it’s going to be tough, but you need to improve a little bit in the race trim, but yeah, hopefully it’s going to be all right, and I’m excited. I just can’t imagine how it’s going to be tomorrow. You know, it’s tough. I was expecting a top 10 today and then qualified third, so I don’t have any thoughts about tomorrow, so we still need to work on it and see how it goes.

JORDAN KING: Yeah, for me, I’m trying not to have any expectations, and so far that has worked. Then again, I’m sitting here. But it’s more that I’ve trusted my ability, so in my view, if I continue just to do that and actually trust what I’ve been told, trust what I can do, the rest of it will take care of itself.

Q. Jordan, you set the track record today and you made the Fast Six and you’re trying not to have any expectations. After a day like today, how do you stop from having any expectations?
JORDAN KING: That’s a tough question. Coming into qualifying, it was one of those, yes, I knew we were quick enough to get through, but still, I had to perform, and it being my first time, I was obviously putting more pressure on myself than anybody else. But then I just had to keep reminding myself that if I just do what I know I can, the rest of it will be fine, and that was the case even after the last Fast Six. When I got out of the car and looked at the time screen I was a bit annoyed, but we went higher up because it was so close, and I knew there was still lap time there.

Yeah, it’s more just kind of taking a deep breath in and going, right, no, just don’t get ahead of yourself and just keep doing lap by lap sort of thing.

Q. What do you make of the fact that three of the top four qualifiers are rookies?
JORDAN KING: Everyone keeps asking the question. You asked the previous three whether being a rookie is actually an advantage, and I think, yes, it is, but it also isn’t. You see in numerous walks of life that being experienced counts for a lot more than being inexperienced, but I think the thing you’ve got to remember about us is, yes, we’re rookies in IndyCar, so we don’t have to relearn things, but we’ve also been racing for 12 years for myself —

MATHEUS LEIST: Yeah, 11 years.

JORDAN KING: So we have got a lot of experience in driving cars, new tires, changing conditions and that sort of thing. So we still have to learn the new car, but there’s still a lot of experience in the past. So I think that also negates some of the factors that — you look at a lot of the young drivers coming through, they are actually very experienced and well-rounded, and I know Matheus won the British F3 championship and so did I, so it must be maybe a British F3 —

MATHEUS LEIST: Jordan was my coach one time when I was racing FIA. It was fun.

JORDAN KING: And now he’s beating me.

MATHEUS LEIST: Yeah, but I think coming up from Indy Lights, it’s a good step. I can’t say it’s easier than coming down, but it’s all right for me, and all these guys have a lot of experience, so they kind of know how to adapt themselves very well.

Q. Matt, when we were out at Phoenix for the test, you may remember this, you brushed the wall four times I believe it was and just kept going out there and kept hammering at it. When you left the racetrack that night could you have pictured this happening here?
MATHEUS LEIST: Yeah, of course. I think what happened in Phoenix is that last year I won two ovals out of three in Indy Lights, and usually the high line worked quite a lot in Indy Lights, but with the IndyCar the tires are completely different, and the high side gets pretty dirty. So all the times that I tried in Phoenix, it didn’t work. At least I learned some stuff from there.

Yeah, Phoenix was a good test. I think we were like top 10 pretty much every time I hit the track, so I was having confidence for here, also, whenever we tested in Sonoma, and Sebring was great testing. So yeah, I was confident coming over here to St. Pete now.

Q. Matt, you replace the very popular American driver in Conor Daly. Do you feel like that puts any extra pressure on you to perform? And you’re also in the American team with AJ.
MATHEUS LEIST: No, I don’t think so. I think now we have a Brazilian team in AJ Foyt, so it’s not all Americans, with Tony, as well, so not much to say, I think. The guys of ABC and AJ Foyt, they want to see guys winning races and being up in the front, so that’s what we are trying to do.

Q. What do you think of all the veteran names that are in this series, a lot of really great names, big drivers that have accomplished a lot. Did you think in the very first race that a rookie would go out and win the pole today, and if so, when you look at Robert’s résumé, is it even kind of fair to consider him a rookie?
JORDAN KING: I think it comes back to my point. We’ve all been racing a long time, and I think Robert has achieved a lot more than your average person in motorsport, and he’s a very talented driver, so there’s no coincidence that he’s come in and done a good job. Maybe his previous experiences in other cars helped him in the trickier conditions, so yeah, he has done a very good job. That said, all the big names, as well, they have done good jobs. Obviously it’s 50/50 up here today, but they’ve all — they’ll all be good throughout the season, and it won’t be a case that they will be caught asleep.

Q. Some of the veteran drivers have commented about this new universal car that they have tried to make changes, and they didn’t get the results that they expected. In other words, whatever changes they made to the car, it didn’t go the way they intended. Coming in as rookies, have you had any difficulty setting up this car? It would appear that you’ve gotten very good results and that you’re comfortable in the car, and maybe it suits your driving style, so I’m just wondering if when you’ve had changes that you and your engineers have gone through if you really get the results you’re looking for.
MATHEUS LEIST: Yeah, so I think it’s a pretty nice car to drive, actually. It’s pretty fast. I had a half a day in the old car, and it was quite a big step from the Indy Lights, but this car now, it’s okay steps, not that much. For me it’s just like I felt better in all the turns from the Indy Lights. The car brakes very well. The power — we have quite a lot of power, and with the new tires quite a lot of grip, as well. For me, it’s a pretty nice car to drive, and I don’t have any complaints.

And also, the technique from the Indy Lights to the IndyCar is pretty much the same with these aero kits now, but it was not the same with the old one, so it kind of helped me a little bit.

JORDAN KING: And I think from my point of view, I’ve just been honest with the feedback to the engineers. I don’t have any pre conceptions on how the car should handle, but the engineers are also new to this car, as well. So I think it’s as much of a challenge for them as it is for the drivers. If they can’t give you a fast car, you can’t drive it fast, so there’s always another side to the argument. And our guys back at base, they have worked really hard to understand the new car, but we’ve also got new brakes, as well, so there’s five or six different things that they’ve had to get their head around and work out what’s right. Now, we’ve done a good job this weekend, but that’s not to say the next weekend there will be different challenges on a different circuit. It is always a learning process, and over the two days testing we had preseason, we made a lot of progress, or a lot of learning, as well, just understanding how the car behaves.

Q. You had to deal with just a little bit of rain today, but if it rain more heavily tomorrow, what kind of previous success or just even experience in the rain do you both have to fall back on?
MATHEUS LEIST: I had quite a lot in England, to be honest.

JORDAN KING: I was going to say, being British, it’s fine.

MATHEUS LEIST: But I raced just one time in the rain last year in Indy Lights. It’s all right, I think, I’m pretty sure for tomorrow if it rains.

JORDAN KING: Being British, I grew up driving on slicks in the rain, so hopefully there’s not much of a problem tomorrow, but we’ll see.

Q. Matt, even if the car is also new for Tony, does he share all the experience with you? Tell us a little bit how you work with him.
MATHEUS LEIST: Yeah, we share everything. He’s a very good guy. He has been helping me a lot, not just inside the track but also outside the track. Not just him but like AJ, Larry, everyone on the team has been helping me a lot because I’m a rookie and everything is just like brand new for me. But yeah, Tony is a very special guy, and I’m grateful to be working with him as a teammate. I grew up watching him racing, him and Helio, and now I’m his teammate, so this is a dream come true for me.

Q. Do you guys feel like you at least maybe surprised the veteran drivers today and perhaps even made them a bit nervous about how quickly you’ve come in and become factors here?
JORDAN KING: I hope so