Eight times the Penske driver has contested the pole—and seven times, triumphed.
Someone who didn’t know the history might have looked at Power’s practice performance–second in the second session but only 11th in the first and tenth in the third—and assumed that the Australian driver was thoroughly outclassed this year.
Honda-powered cars captured four of the top five spots in the first two sessions, and six of the top seven in the final session. Ganassi’s Scott Dixon was quickest in the final two sessions, with one or two of his Ganassi team mates in the top five each time.
Power certainly never doubted himself. He ran only a single fast lap in the first round of qualifying—he warmed up his tires, laid down a fast lap, and parked it, certain he had done enough.
This paid off later on, as he had a set of tires with only one lap on them—which meant they would be at their best for a couple more laps, while some of his competitors would have to use used tires in the final round of qualifying.
“The first session, I kind of realized on the out lap, the tires are actually in a lot quicker than the day before. I thought, ‘I can probably do this on the first lap,’ and I went for it, and then I just pitted. It was a total guess. I just pitted after one lap because it felt like that was pretty hooked up, and it was good enough. We banked that one-lap set then, and that definitely makes it easier in the Fast Six.”
He almost threw it away in Round Two. His crew made some changes which didn’t work s expected, and in an attempt to compensate, he overcooked it exiting Turn Ten and whitewalled his right front tire. Undaunted, Power simply ran another lap, went faster, and earned a spot in the Fast Six.
“The lap before I didn’t get that exit: he said after qualifying. “That’s what ruined my lap, so I had to do a third lap, so I just stayed in it and kind of brushed the wall. It just got the tires, didn’t get the rims.”
He ran only two fast laps in the final session, one to get in the groove and one to win his seventh pole with a lap of 01:01.0640 at 106.118 mph, beating Scott Dixon by 16-hundredths of a second.
Dixon said at the post-race press conference that he thought he had the speed but didn’t use it. “I made a pretty big mistake on my first lap, which definitely disappointed, and we had a pretty smooth weekend. The car was super fast and I came up short, but it’s qualifying. Hopefully tomorrow I can redeem myself and we can snap up an extra spot.”
2013 St. Pete winner James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports qualified third with a lap of 01:01.3039 at 105.703 mph, followed by Penske’s newest driver, Josef Newgarden, in 01:01.7229 at 104.985 mph.
Takuma Sato found his new home at Andretti Autosport very hospitable, as he earned fifth spot on the grid. Dixon’s team mate Tony Kanaan took the final Fast Six position.
The entire Fast Six field was within a second of the pole, showing how close a race can be expected tomorrow.
Action on race day starts at 9 a.m. with IndyCar warm-up, followed by races by Indy Lights and Stadium Super Trucks.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg takes the green flag at approximately 12:30 p.m. and lasts for 100 laps.
To round out the day, Pirelli World Challenge and Pro Mazda will both run races after the IndyCar event ends. The action should end by 5:30 p.m., just in time for dinner.
For tickets and information please visit the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg website.