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Power takes pole in Castroneves No. 3
Helio Castroneves fields questions Saturday in Long Beach. - photo by Photo by Dale Bosowski
LONG BEACH — Australia’s Will Power shook off all of the distractions caused by the acquittal and return of teammate Helio Castroneves to capture the pole for Sunday’s 35th running of the Indy Racing League’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Saturday.

On Friday, Power set the fastest time in qualifying behind the wheel of the Team Penske No. 3 normally driven by Castroneves, who was in a federal court in Miami awaiting the verdict on seven tax evasion charges. After Castroneves was pronounced innocent of six of the charges by the 12 person jury (the jury was hung on the seventh charge) later on Friday afternoon, it was announced by the team that he would immediately return to drive the  No. 3 while another car was prepared for Power for the remainder of the weekend.

Despite the sudden switch to the No. 12 Verizon Wireless sponsored car, Power blazed a quick lap of 1 minute, 09.7107 seconds (101.63 mph) on the tricky 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit to edge out veteran Dario Franchitti, of Team Target Ganassi, for the top spot by less than .2 of a second.

“It was a great job by the team,” Power said. “They had to swap everything over on this car, with an all new crew, new engineer and everything. We’re looking to have a strong race and hopefully move up in the championship.”

On Saturday morning, Castroneves held a press conference with team owner Roger Penske to talk about his situation.

“It feels like I just woke up from a nightmare,” said an emotional Castroneves, who stopped for a moment to compose himself as he reflected back on his seven week ordeal. “I never lost faith. Sometimes I questioned it a little bit, but all those prayers people were sending me, it kept me really strong.”

Castroneves was excited to get out of the courtroom and back into the driver’s seat of his racecar.

“I never felt more comfortable being in a car in my entire life,” pronounced Castroneves. “It was awesome those first few laps. I think I was smiling right through my helmet. I want to hug everybody today.”

Ironically, Castroneves hit the wall in the qualifying session and was taken to the hospital for observation after complaining of a headache. Doctors will reevaluate him on Sunday morning to determine if he will be able to start the race. If he is cleared, he will take the green flag from the eighth position in the 23-car field.

 It was also a homecoming of sorts for Franchitti, who last raced at Long Beach with Champ Car in 2002 before moving the IRL, which is racing at Long Beach for the first time in 2009, and later NASCAR.

“It is great to be back here. The fans are just outstanding here, you can feel the excitement in the car,” commented Franchitti. “There is really a buzz at this place.”

Sunday’s Long Beach GP can been seen live on VERSUS beginning at 1:00 PM.

To contact Dale Bosowski, e-mail