The off-season was six months long, but Will Power hasn’t forgotten his way around the street course in St Petersburg. For the seventh time in the last eight years, Power earned pole position for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg.
It is the 45th career pole for Power, and Team Penske has now claimed eight of the last 11 poles for this race.
Joining Power on the front row tomorrow is a familiar face. Scott Dixon has three runner-up finishes, and five total top-five finishes here, but has never won a race at St Petersburg. Row 2 is filled with a couple of young talents in 2013 St Petersburg winner James Hinchcliffe, and Penske’s Josef Newgarden.
Row 3 features a couple of popular veterans in Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan. Sato was the top qualifier for Andretti Autosport, in what will be his first race with the team. Kanaan, like his Ganassi teammate (Dixon), has 12 starts at St Petersburg, but is still searching for his first win here.
Max Chilton, Alexander Rossi, Charlie Kimball, and Graham Rahal rounded out the top ten in qualifying. Honda represented 9 of the top 12 on Saturday, and all four Ganassi cars qualified in the top ten.
Qualification Results for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg
There were a few close calls during qualifying, with the first coming in Turn 14, where Sebastien Bourdais slid off course and into the wall. The driver, now back with Dale Coyne Racing, said he simply misjudged the brakes and couldn’t get slowed down. He did not record a time, and will start last on Sunday.
Ryan Hunter-Reay later had significant contact with the outside wall in Turn 8, as the left-rear of his Honda machine needed repairs on pit lane. Even the pole sitter had a moment. Power kissed the wall on his final lap, but still managed to find his way into the Firestone Fast Six on his final lap during Round 2 of qualifying.
There were a few drivers that didn’t perform up to expectations on Saturday. After leading the opening practice session and being one of the fastest cars on Friday, Marco Andretti struggled in qualifying. He was unable to transfer out of the first round, and will start the race in 15th tomorrow. Marco has two top-five finishes here in 11 starts.
While two Penske cars are starting 1st and 4th on Sunday, two of them will be starting much further back. Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud starts 14th, and Helio Castroneves will start directly behind him in 16th position. In his last ten races here, Castroneves has finished in the top-four all but one time. He’ll have his work cut out for him on Sunday though, as 11 of the 13 races have been won by a driver starting in the top five. The others were Dan Wheldon and Graham Rahal, who both started 9th respectively.
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 Juan Montoya is the defending race winner.
Coverage for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg begins at Noon ET on ABC.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar
Simon Pagenaud: “Well, we’re certainly disappointed, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to pack up and go home. The PPG Chevrolet team and I will go to work and figure out how we can improve. They are the best in the business. We have our work cut out for us, but once the race starts, all sorts of things can happen.”
Josef Newgarden: “I have been told numerous times that this car has been victorious twice in the last two years here. So no pressure, right? Hopefully go get it done. But I think we have a good start. Fourth place, it’s the best that I’ve started around St. Pete here, so I think our guys did a great job. I feel like I didn’t maximize that final Firestone Fast Six as much as I could have, but I also don’t think I would have gotten Will (Power). I think Will put a really good lap together. He did an awesome job. We’ve had good cars. I think our race cars off the truck have actually been pretty good, and we haven’t had to do much. We’ve been able to stay inside of our window for the most part this weekend. I’m excited. You know, the next thing for us now and certainly for me is to learn the race car, how it’s going to perform over a tire stint. We haven’t done much of that, at least I haven’t, with the team here at Team Penske, so I’m excited to figure out that portion. As you said, they’ve had luck with this car in the past, so hopefully it’s going to be a strong race car, and I think we can do a good job with the Verizon No. 2 car this weekend, and hopefully we can seal it up for tomorrow.”
Helio Castroneves: “We didn’t miss by much, but that’s how close it is in this series. Fortunately, I have the Hitachi Chevy guys behind me and I have all the confidence in the world that they can give me a car to go to the front. You just want to get to the next round. Anything can happen. We came up a little short, but I think we have a great race car.”
Conor Daly: “It was a bit strange with the way the red flag came out. I think we started to push a little bit too early on our only set of (Firestone) reds. We’re really struggling to stop the car. These new brakes are treating me very unkindly. Stopping the car has always been a strength of mine, the brake zones are where I can brake deep and now I can’t brake deep enough. For some reason the car won’t stop and we’ve got to get that fixed so we can actually compete.”
James Hinchcliffe: “Obviously starting off the season strong is huge. Momentum in this sport and any sport really is a key to success, and winning the first one and getting off to that strong start always makes you feel good and keeps the team in the right state of mind. And (my win here in 2013) was the first one in my career, so obviously a pretty emotional day and one that I remember very clearly, and with our best starting spot here, obviously the competition up front is incredible. The Verizon IndyCar Series never fails to disappoint in that sense and congrats to Will and everybody at Honda to really step up their game, and happy to be starting inside of Row 2 and kind of see how it plays out tomorrow.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “It was quite a tough qualifying for us. I was definitely expecting more, but tomorrow is going to be a long race. We are going to do everything possible to get a good result for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team.”
Max Chilton: “I was happy with the Gallagher car and felt I really got everything out of myself. I knew coming into qualifying that we had a fast car for sure. We hit traffic and didn’t get through and that was frustrating obviously. I think we could have been fourth in the second segment and advanced, but that’s the way it goes sometimes, and we can fight with a good car tomorrow which I’m excited about.”
Scott Dixon: “That was just on me unfortunately. We have a super fast car and should have been on pole. I just messed up a little on my fastest lap there. I’m obviously disappointed, but the team has four fast cars. We’re working together great with Honda and I can’t wait to start the race tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll have the GE car up front when it counts.”
Tony Kanaan: “When I walked in Scott (Dixon) was saying how well he thinks we’re all working together and I completely agree. I think the engineers did a great job over the winter when we switched over to Honda. We spent a lot of time focusing on the areas that we didn’t think were good last year and I just think we came into this season better prepared. It’s great to see that we could put all four cars in the top 10 and we’re all really close. I think the four of us with the Honda aero kit are just working really well together.”
Will Power: (On what it takes to have a strong qualifying in St. Petersburg) “It takes obviously a very good team and kind of getting through that first round there. Taking the risk on just doing one lap was good for me, definitely had a bit more meat on the tires in the last round there. We worked on the car too. Made a bit of a wrong setup change there for the last round, and kind of just made it, and went back and did something else. So yeah, very happy to be on pole. It’s really tight competition.”
Carlos Munoz: “We were better in qualifying than practice. I think in Segment 2 we could have been better but between the runs, we tried some things that didn’t work like we expected. Our goal was to be in the top 10 but we missed by one spot. It’s still a good position to start here. We have to work to make the car more consistent throughout the race. So we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Graham Rahal: “Starting 10th is obviously not where we want to be but all things considered, and where we’ve been this weekend, we knew it was going to take everything we had to advance out of the first group this weekend. When you have guys like Helio (Castroneves) and Simon (Pagenaud) and all these boys in there, you know you have to be at your absolute best to advance. We made it through, but that top 12 was going to be tough for us to advance out of. I felt like I got all of it out of the car honestly. We just need to find some consistency and find some grip. I’ve seen the sector times and I know where we’re losing it compared to everyone else but I don’t see how, within myself, we’re just going to find a magical three-tenths (of a second). We’ve got to get to work. Tomorrow is a whole new day and we seem to excel as a team on race day. Who knows what can happen but we’ll try to get this Steak ‘n Shake car in victory lane.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “I have no idea what happened, everything felt fine in Turn 10. I got on the brakes and got to the last corner and nothing happened. I locked up the inside front and never really slowed down properly. It never happened before. I’ve been very happy with the braking, we’ve just had some overheating issues but that has nothing to do with that. I guess I thought the brakes were in. Maybe I took it too easy around the start of the first lap and by the time I got to start the fast lap the rears were not up and I didn’t get any slowing down from the rears and locked up the front and that was that.”
Ed Jones: “It was a little frustrating that the red flag came out early on. I didn’t get to have a first go at the Firestone reds so I had to go straight out again on a new set and push from there. For me it was a bit of an unknown how the jump was going to be. The car felt really good and I felt like I was finally there. I felt a lot more comfortable in the car. The difference with the reds it that I just didn’t have time to adapt. By the time I realized how much deeper I could go, the tires had already started falling off of their best. At least I know for next time. I was really excited to do my first Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying. I just felt at home, so that’s the most important thing. Overall, I’m happy with how it went.”
Spencer Pigot: “It was still a little disappointing not to advance to the next round of qualifying. It was so close. A couple hundredths of a second would have put us through. We made some good gains from practice so that’s important. Thanks to the Fuzzy’s Vodka guys for working hard and giving me a good car. We’re good on longer runs, so tomorrow we’re going to give it a shot.”
JR Hildebrand: “Tomorrow’s going to be tough because there’s not a lot of strategy options. It’s a pretty straightforward situation. For us, we need to be confident that we can make some moves on our own and be good at picking our way through. Outside of that, we have to be smart when things do happen. If there are issues in front of us, we need to be able to take advantage of those when they happen. Obviously not where we want to be to kick things off here, but it leaves room for improvement certainly. We’ll continue to plug away at it, we’ve got a whole season to get to the point where we are consistently competitive but we want to get there as quick as we can. We know there are some things we can work on.”
Takuma Sato: “Yes, I’m extremely pleased about today’s result, having had a very difficult first day yesterday. The team did fantastic job, pulled everything all together, and I really have to appreciate all my teammates. Obviously they all helped me out to get things put together, obviously extremely strong, hard work, and then obviously the boys did a great job to put everything together on the No. 26 car. Everything really worked well. Up until today’s practice, I was still a little bit nervous and didn’t get confident in the car. It’s such a short time, and having a little tragedy yesterday. But in qualifying, a different type of feeling. I got out first on the red tire, and I was extremely happy in the car. Like (Scott) Dixon said, it’s really a great job from Honda over the course of the winter. I know it’s a frozen package. We can do very little things, but I think engine development as well as how you try and use the car and the package, I think today is a result that we are really coming back in strong.”
Marco Andretti: “This (qualifying result) is hard to swallow. We just overacted because we were really loose on (Firestone primary) blacks. So, we overacted with the car set up and it wouldn’t turn on the (alternate) reds. We would have been better off not having made the changes and just running. This one hurts because the hhgregg car is faster than this. Last year I went to the back of the field, and felt like I had the pace to come through so we’re hoping for that.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “We were just trying to get that extra bit today. These street circuits are always difficult that way. I had a bit of a moment there, corrected, and then it came back and I slapped the wall hard enough to bend the left, rear toe link. I whitewalled it a few times this weekend, but that was the biggest one. We’re always pushing hard. Big thanks to the DHL guys for thrashing there. They almost had us back out in time. It was just a matter of seconds. Another 45 seconds and I think we would have made it out. Completely on me. I was just pushing, trying to get every last lap out of (the car). Looking to tomorrow, the qualifying car is going to be a lot different from the race car, we’ll see. Last year we had a good race car, so we’ll lean on that a bit and try to make it happen.”
Charlie Kimball: “I’m disappointed with qualifying ninth. I think coming into the weekend my goal was to qualify in the top 10 and finish in the top five. We’re obviously already hitting that goal with starting ninth, but after the last couple of days I think we’ve been faster than where we’re starting tomorrow. We had a problem with the first set of tires we were going to run in Segment 2 so I didn’t get a run on that. We had a little too much fuel and I didn’t get the lap. I feel badly for the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing guys because the car was better than ninth. These things happen and as Dario says, ‘It’s all in the recovery’ so tomorrow we’ll be smart, have good clean pit stops, and go forward when we can.”
Alexander Rossi: “We had the potential to be in the Firestone Fast Six, but we just didn’t put that second lap together to get up there. I think we made a bit of a change in session that wasn’t great. All in all, I think this is the best place we’ve ever started from on a street course, so that’s the positive side. I’m disappointed to miss the Firestone Fast Six because I know that we’re quickest on the (Firestone primary) blacks in that second run before going to (alternate) reds. I think the potential is there, we just didn’t put it together. But, we’re still starting inside the top eight, and will fight to take the NAPA Auto Parts Honda to the front.”