Will Power smashed his Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet into the wall just five laps into the first practice session of the season. All four Penske crews worked feverishly to repair his car, and today he rewarded them for their efforts. Power grabbed Pole position for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg, and the Penske cars took the top four spots in qualifying. It’s the sixth Pole at St Petersburg for Power, who also has two wins and two runner-up finishes here.
There weren’t any surprises in the Firestone Fast Six. Power broke his own track record with a lap of 1:00.2450 seconds. Simon Pagenaud will join him on the front row. The second row belongs to Helio Castroneves and last year’s race winner Juan Montoya. Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay will start 5th and 6th tomorrow. Graham Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, and Jack Hawksworth round out the top ten.
Qualification Results for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg
As if his weekend wasn’t impressive enough, Power earned this Pole while being under the weather.
The teams and drivers know how important it is to start up front for this race. Ten of the 12 races at St Petersburg have been won by a car starting in the top five.
The great weekend continued for AJ Foyt Racing, as both their drivers performed well on Saturday. Hawksworth qualified 10th, and Takuma Sato will start 11th on Sunday. Aside from Hunter-Reay, the Andretti Autosport camp struggled mightily. Carlos Munoz qualified 13th, Marco Andretti in 15th, and Alexander Rossi will start his first IndyCar race in 19th position. Hunter-Reay was the only one to make it out of the first round of qualifications.
Excluding Dixon, the other three Chip Ganassi cars struggled on Saturday as well. Charlie Kimball qualified 14th, and Max Chilton will start 17th in his first IndyCar race. It was another rough qualifying session for Tony Kanaan. He will start 20th tomorrow, and he has not won an IndyCar Pole since June 28 of 2008. He, like Dixon, has 11 IndyCar starts at St Petersburg, and has not yet won a race.
The practice session before qualifications on Saturday got heated between Bourdais and Mikhail Aleshin. IndyCar posted a video of the confrontation that took place on pit road.
The race distance is 110 laps, which is 198 miles around the 1.8-mile 14-turn street circuit. Power won the Pole for last year’s race, and Montoya is the defending race winner.
Coverage for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg begins at 12:30 PM ET on ABC.
Qualification Photos via IndyCar
Juan Montoya: “It was OK. We struggled. We were really good this morning. I was really happy. We only ran one set of new tires. On red tires we were not as good as we needed to be. I think the track went off a little bit. Didn’t adjust the Verizon car enough for qualifying, so we were a little bit behind. Overall it was good. Last year I won the race from there, so I don’t mind.”
Helio Castroneves: “The Hitachi car was pretty good. At the beginning we were not that strong on the qualifying, but we were able to dig in. My engineer (Jonathan Diuguid) and Roger (Penske) and the entire No. 3 team did a phenomenal job. They were working during qualifying. Every step of the way, we were making improvements and the car was getting faster and faster. In the end we took a big gamble. It almost paid off. Unfortunately, it was a little bit too much. But great effort for the whole organization. To have 1-2-3-4, again, it shows we’re really working together as a team, we want to win as a team, and we’re going to keep pushing. Great effort for Team Penske.”
James Hinchcliffe: “I think we can be happy with that. Certainly, only being a tenth out of the Fast Six and a tenth away from top Honda is tough, but from the imbalance we had this morning, the Arrow Electronics crew did a great job to tune it in for qualifying. It’s tough when you throw on those Firestone reds for the first time in 10 months to try and figure out how much grip there is, but like I said, it was a solid effort from everybody in the No. 5 car. I think we can race from ninth place. We’ve seen that these guys are as good as anybody at calling strategy so the goal is just to get through Turn 1 and take the rest of the race from there.”
Max Chilton: “It was a difficult morning for sure. We made a change during the first practice session that was just too much and ultimately didn’t really work. We went back to the way we had originally set up the car for qualifying, but it seemed to have the same balance issues we saw this morning. It’s not as high as we would’ve hoped to qualify, but I came out as the top rookie and I don’t think I did too bad of a job today. We’ll regroup tonight and be ready for the race tomorrow.”
Scott Dixon: “We had a pretty poor session this morning just with traffic and not being able to get a clean run. The No. 9 Target Chevrolet has been strong for most of the weekend and it’s good to see those top five spots in the Firestone Fast Six being Chevy-powered. It’s tough to see all four Penske cars walk off in those top four spots, but at least we made some big improvements over last year’s car. I know we’re going to race well, so hopefully we’ll have a good strategy to gain a few spots and make it to the podium tomorrow.”
Tony Kanaan: “We’re obviously not happy with our qualifying effort today. We’ve struggled this weekend to get the car where it needs to be and get the times that we know we can get. It just wasn’t there today in qualifying for the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet, but we’ll bounce back tomorrow.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “Obviously, not as good a qualifying session as last year, not as competitive as the Hydroxycut KVSH Racing team would have liked. Everything came back together very late so we didn’t get in all the work we needed. We will just keep digging. That is what we do. It’s tough, there are big teams with a lot of resources and we go out there with our limited tools and try and give them a run for their money. Eighth is not where we wanted to start, but we are looking forward to a good race tomorrow.”
Will Power: “What a great run today for the Verizon Chevy team. It’s an awesome feeling to be able to put the new look Verizon car on pole again here at St. Pete. Unfortunately, I’ve been feeling pretty ill all day. It was a struggle to get through qualifying, honestly, but we were able to do it and after the Verizon P1 Pole Award presentation I just started feeling a lot worse. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be at the press conference afterward. The car was great today and a big credit to the guys for doing a terrific job in qualifying. I’ll try to get some good rest tonight and come back ready to race on Sunday.”
Takuma Sato: “Tough day for us. We learned a lot in the second session to make the car faster. The first round was exciting. We had a good feeling on the black tire and had no problem with the red tires on the first segment although the field was very tight. We went for more performance in the second round and it didn’t work so we lost speed in the second segment, unfortunately. We’ll try to find more speed tomorrow morning. We have always been strong in qualifying here so it’s a shame to miss the Fast Six here but we’re looking to finish strong.”
Graham Rahal: “I left it all out there. I didn’t have anything else. We’ve been up front all weekend and we have been close but unfortunately we just didn’t have quite enough there. These Steak ‘n Shake boys continue to work hard all weekend and ultimately we race better than we qualify so for us to start seventh, I think we can have a good race. We have been competitive, but I think we are all struggling to find a balance. The Firestone tire we brought here is maybe a little bit different than last year’s compound so it’s been difficult to get everything how we want it, setup-wise but we like the challenge and my guys have responded really well. We have to turn our eyes toward the race now and I think we will be pretty strong. Overall we wanted to be the top Honda but we came up three-hundredths of a second short but that’s how this thing goes.”
Spencer Pigot: “Definitely the red Firestone tires are a big difference, there is a lot more grip which is awesome. It’s amazing how much grip the car has with those tires. It was good to finally get a chance to try them out. It’s tough out there. I thought I put some good laps together. I think we had a few tenths left which wouldn’t have gotten us through (to the next round) but it might have moved us up a couple of spots that I left on the table. That’s part of learning and part of being a rookie. I definitely learned a lot in those few laps that will help me next time I’m on the reds. I think the goal for tomorrow is to just do our best and hopefully we can make up a few spots on the start and then just see how the race unfolds. It’s a long race and sometimes this race can be pretty unpredictable and pretty crazy. You never know what is going to happen but we will try to keep our nose clean and pick them off as we can.”
Conor Daly: “I’m disappointed for sure. You’re never, ever happy in the back. We have quite a bit to do but we’ve done a lot, we’ve investigated a lot, we’ve tried a lot, so no matter what it will help going down the road for the season. I also got impeded by traffic, sadly, but that’s part of the game. If you go through a weekend without, at one point, getting traffic you won the lottery so, no blame there, it’s just part of their game and we just have to put ourselves in a better position next time. We’ll see what happens in the race.”
Josef Newgarden: “I felt pretty positive all day, but it’s perplexing why we didn’t have the speed there in qualifying. Sometimes this is a perplexing track. You can have good balance, the car can feel like it has good grip and but you just don’t have the speed. We’ll try and get it sorted for tomorrow and have a good racecar. We’ve got a great crew here with the Fuzzy’s Vodka boys, I’m not worried about doing a good job and executing during the race tomorrow. I feel confident still, it’s just a shame we couldn’t be a little bit quicker. I felt like we had more performance than what we showed, the car was really good and it felt good, it just wasn’t quick enough.”
Simon Pagenaud: “It was a good day. It was a really good day. It’s been a good weekend so far. You can feel a good difference in our group, on the No. 22 side, in our second year together. It’s a lot of fun actually. The lap time shows. It’s all good at the moment. Qualifying was super, super intense. I had a blast out there. The car felt really good. It’s just about getting those last little bits everywhere you can. But, yeah, super happy about the performance so far. I think in race trim we will be in probably a little bit better shape, so I’m excited about that.”
Marco Andretti: “Credit to Ryan (Hunter-Reay) to squeeze it out and get in the Firestone Fast Six. We just were lacking rear grip in qualifying. The (Firestone alternate) red didn’t do what I expected they would do. We’ll meet tonight and pull together to work towards a set up for the Snapple car for tomorrow.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “Yeah, it was a bit of a struggle today. It was a thrash. We were really searching for some speed just to catch up with these guys. They’ve been the class of the field so far. It’s been very tough for us, to tell you the truth. But we pulled it together, found some speed in qualifying. It’s tough to be happy with sixth, but we’re slowly today talking ourselves into it. We salvaged something today. Those Firestone reds were like a life vest for me in the middle of the ocean. Once I got those on, finally the car woke up a bit and I could really hustle it and drive it the way it needed to be driven. Prior to that we’d been struggling for overall grip. We’ll take the starting spot and hopefully we can go out and have a really good race tomorrow and start the season off the way it should.”
Jack Hawksworth: “The day started off well; we had a good practice this morning. The car feels really good. The guys have done a good job and it’s nice to see that all of the work over the winter is paying off and the fundamentals are getting better. In the qualifying I think we misunderstood the red tires, so I think we missed it a little bit there but it’s certainly something we banked and will take to Long Beach. I think car-wise we have really good cars, both drivers. I believe we’ll have a good day tomorrow.”
Alexander Rossi: “Based on yesterday afternoon, we were expecting quite a bit more today. We had a bit of an issue this morning on the Castrol Edge/Curb Honda with braking that we weren’t able to resolve this afternoon. That is a little disappointing but it’s the way it goes sometimes. I think that we, as a group of four cars, need to put our heads together tonight and figure out what the best solution is. We all know Indy car racing is very different on Sunday than it is on Saturday, so we’ll have to make sure we dot all our “I’s” and cross all our “t’s” to put our best foot forward for tomorrow.”