Castroneves chips into points lead with Fontana pole
29 August 2014 – Helio Castroneves picked up his second pole position of 2014 at the most crucial time possible: On the eve of the championship decider where he now trails Will Power by 50 points.
The pole position ahead of the double points contest at Fontana is of minor concern to Helio, though, since only two people (Power included) have ever won the race from pole, but regardless, with a 218.540mph average he starts on the opposite end of the field to his championship rival.
Power started strong on his warmup lap, but like so many before him the tyres began to degrade at the end of that lap around the 2.0mi high banked oval. As a result, his first lap of qualifying was way off, over four miles-per-hour slower than his second lap, putting him into an insurmountable hole. While he improved on his second lap by taking a different line, the Australian will still start second to last on the field in P21 – which is exactly what Castroneves and fellow title contender Simon Pagenaud want.
For Castroneves, he can finish anywhere on the podium but if he's third at the end of the race, Power will need to have stayed in P21, which seems unlikely for the 2013 Fontana winner and three-time championship runner-up.
Pagenaud needs more help than that, requiring both Power and Castroneves to be at the back of the field and for the Frenchman to win. Pagenaud will start in P13, though, which means he'll have his work cut out for him, too.
For most of the scorching session, track temperatures were well over 135°F (57°C), and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya was the provisional polesitter. Only Castroneves beat Montoya's P1 speed of 217.614mph.
Josef Newgarden had another strong showing, starting on the outside of the front row (since Fontana is another Triple Crown 500-mile race, the field will be starting three-wide) in front of Takuma Sato, with one of his best qualifying sessions of the year.
Last year's series champion, Scott Dixon, rounds out the top five ahead of Charlie Kimball, Tony Kanaan, rookie Mikhail Aleshin, 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal, who nearly won last week's race at Sonoma.
Ed Carpenter qualified a disappointing P14 and was a victim of a very slow second lap due to tyre burnoff. He had tried a very slow warmup to combat that, but his tyres still dropped off after a 218mph first lap, pushing his average down to 215mph. Just seven cars in the field improved on their second laps (including Power), but Helio didn't even need to in order to capture pole after a blistering 219mph first attempt.
Interestingly, most of the track and the online timing and scoring lost power during Helio's warmup lap, but the official timing and scoring was still able to keep track of his times.
Saturday's 250-lap race at Fontana will go green under the lights at 21:00 local time (GMT -7)