Helio Castroneves wins IndyCar pole at Fontana

Helio Castroneves wins IndyCar pole at Fontana
Team owner Roger Penske and IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves chat during a practice session Friday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. (Will Lester / Associated Press)

As temperatures neared 100 degrees at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Juan Pablo Montoya appeared to have won the pole position during qualifying Friday for the IndyCar series' final race of the season.

But there was one more driver to qualify: Helio Castroneves, Montoya's teammate at Team Penske.


Castroneves, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner trying to win his first IndyCar title, snatched the pole from Montoya with a two-lap average speed of 218.540 mph at the two-mile oval track.

Montoya, with a qualifying speed of 217.621 mph, will start second alongside Castroneves in the MAVTV 500 on Saturday night. Josef Newgarden and Takuma Sato qualified third and fourth.

By capturing the pole, Castroneves shaved one point off the lead held by his other teammate, Will Power, who now leads Castroneves by 50 points in the title standings entering the final race.

"It certainly helps" winning the pole, Castroneves said, but he added, "It's not everything. It's still 500 miles" left to race in the 250-lap event.

The game plan is "to attack, be aggressive and finish in the same position we started," Castroneves said.

The Verizon IndyCar Series gives points on a sliding scale and normally starts with 50 for the winner of a race. But in its 500-mile races, including Fontana, the winner gets 100 points.

Power, the defending winner of the race, needs to finish only sixth or better Saturday night to clinch his first championship. But the Australian qualified poorly Friday and will start next to last in the 21st spot.

Auto Club Speedway is a wide track with seams in the pavement that can cause drivers problems as they cross over them at more than 200 mph. Such was the case when Power qualified.

"I got on a seam and had a moment, so then you're unsure of the car," Power said. "At the end of the day [the car] was just too loose."

Castroneves acknowledged being slightly worried after Power's poor qualifying run because both drivers' cars are prepared by the same team.

"I was actually concerned," Castroneves said. "But nothing you can do. You just got to tighten your [seat] belt a little bit more tight and go for it."

The hot weather — the temperature on the track's surface exceeded 130 degrees — was a problem for the drivers because it made the speedway slippery and the cars had less downforce, or grip.

But the cars' handling should be better under cooler conditions Saturday night; the race starts at 7:20 p.m.

Power said that though he wasn't happy with his qualifying run, he wasn't worried about starting in the back.

"It changes things at the start of the race," Power said, but added: "We've got a long night ahead. You've got three hours to work your way to the front."

Power and Castroneves are hoping to win the title for longtime team owner Roger Penske, whose last title came in 2006 when Sam Hornish Jr. won the championship.

Penske built the 568-acre Auto Club Speedway complex, originally called California Speedway, in the mid-1990s but later sold it.

"To be able to win here, the championship at the California Speedway, that would go down as a real special thing for us," Penske said.

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes