Robert Wickens said that he wanted to find his way inside the top ten during qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg. Mission accomplished. The Rookie driver for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports braved the wet street course and captured pole position in his first ever qualifying session in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Wickens put down a lap of 61.6643 seconds on his final lap of qualifying as rain drops covered the course.
Will Power just missed out on his eighth pole in nine races here, and will start alongside Wickens on the front row. Three of the top four starting positions were claimed by Rookies. Matheus Leist and Jordan King were excellent for AJ Foyt and Ed Carpenter Racing, and will start in Row 2. Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the Firestone Fast Six.
Qualification Results for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg
Wickens’ teammate James Hinchcliffe won this race in 2013, and will start 7th on Sunday. Gabby Chaves qualified his Harding Racing machine in 8th, and former teammates Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan round out the top ten qualifiers. Simon Pagenaud has finished 5th, 5th, 2nd, and 2nd in his last four starts here. He shares Row 6 with Alexander Rossi.
There will be plenty of talented drivers starting in the back half of the field on Sunday. Reigning series champion Josef Newgarden starts in 13th position. Defending race winner Sebastien Bourdais qualified 14th. Graham Rahal will start last after a spin during qualifying brought out the red flag. Marco Andretti was one of many drivers penalized for interference.
Wickens is the first IndyCar driver to win pole position in his first career race since Bourdais did it here at St Petersburg in 2003. In the first round of qualifying, King actually set the new lap record of 60.0476 seconds.
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 Bourdais is the defending race winner.
Coverage for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg begins at 12:30 PM ET on ABC.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar
Josef Newgarden: “Not the best qualifying for us. Everyone picked up more than I thought they would but, for us, it just wasn’t enough. I didn’t do a good enough lap and it’s a shame we weren’t able to capitalize more in our first session for the year, but I feel like we’ve got a great car. I’m really happy with the Chevrolet engine that we’ve got this weekend. I think we’ve got what it takes to win this race and it’s been fun driving the Hitachi car for the first time so, not the perfect way to start the weekend off, but I think we’ll have a good car.”
Matheus Leist: “I’m very happy with the whole team and with our performance throughout the whole weekend. I’m looking forward to my first INDYCAR race, my first time doing pit stops, saving fuel and saving tires, so I have a lot of things to learn yet. Tony (Kanaan, teammate) is a very special guy, he’s been helping me a lot, not just inside the track, but outside the track as well. And not just him, but A.J. (Foyt, owner), Larry (Foyt, team manager), and everyone on the team is helping me a lot because I’m a rookie. Tony is a very special guy and I’m super grateful to have him as a teammate. I grew up watching him and Helio (Castroneves), so having him as a teammate is a dream come true for me.”
James Hinchcliffe: “Obviously not the day we wanted on the No. 5 Arrow Electronics car. We got caught out by the rain there and only had one lap to get it done and transfer into the top six, which we only missed by a couple hundredths of a second. I’m pretty disappointed as the car is quick and Robbie (Wickens) proved that. Huge congratulations to everybody on the No. 6 car. It’s great to see the team rewarded for all their hard work. That was an amazing lap in really difficult conditions. He’s totally proven to everybody that he is a force to be reckoned with, and like I said, proves the car is fast, so hopefully we move up from seventh tomorrow.”
Robert Wickens: “I’m a little speechless. First off, Group 1 was dry and normal. The best of the best, you know, rises to the top, and I was happy to make it through. My goal going in to today was just a top 10. If I made Fast Six at all, it would have been amazing and the fact that we topped Q2 was already a surprise. From there I’m like, well, I’m in the top 6, let’s go and have some fun and somehow we had great strategy to get out right at the end, to get a lap on the track, in my opinion, when it was probably at its best. It was tough but the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda was fantastic. My whole team behind me, we all kept our cool and we made the right changes for the wet there for the last qualifying and, yeah, we got it.”
Scott Dixon: “We thought it would get drier as the qualifying session went on, so we elected to go with the black (Firestone primary) tires. The track felt good the first few laps, but then when the rain came it was all too late. Turn 1 was especially bad with the painted runway there. There were several cars that went off there, including myself in the PNC Bank car. So I think we just misread it there. The car is still really fast, though, and we’ll have some work to do to get to the front tomorrow. But we’re here to win and that’s the goal.”
Ed Jones: “This morning we struggled a bit with the car and we went back to what we had yesterday on the NTT DATA Honda. I felt more comfortable for qualifying, but we just missed advancing by a fraction. We had a car come out in front of us, which deterred our progress and that’s unfortunate. It’s frustrating in that sense, but we’ll see what the weather will bring tomorrow and how things will shake out.”
Will Power: “Starting up at the front is definitely better as far as getting through the first corner and that sort of thing. Obviously pole is the best position you can be in. It will be interesting. We don’t know how these cars race. I know they follow well, but I don’t think they draft that well. But yeah, very close (to pole position). I had a big mis-shift during my lap where I just got stuck in gear for quite a while, and then when I saw how tight it was, it was like, yeah, probably lost a tenth of a second or so there. Fantastic job by (Robert) Wickens, first time out, to get pole.”
Tony Kanaan: “I am extremely happy with the team effort so far this weekend. We came here with the intention to put two ABC Supply Racing cars in the top 10 and we actually did one better, putting one in the top 10 and another in the top three. I am looking forward to the race tomorrow.”
Graham Rahal: “I’m obviously disappointed. I got good signs out of the car in the back section, and I knew that the first lap on the reds (Firestone alternate tires) was supposed to be the really good one. Yesterday we didn’t get a good feel for that, but obviously I wanted to go out there and push hard, and I just came out of Turn 10 and stood on it. It seemed OK and the next thing I knew, it just went around. I’m disappointed clearly for everybody. I don’t know what the pace would have been, but it was giving me positive vibes. I thought that on the used blacks (Firestone primary tires), when others were on new blacks, we were pretty competitive, so I felt like going forward we should be half decent. I’m disappointed for the first race to start off this way but we can’t get too down on ourselves. We’ve just got to stay focused. Tomorrow is a new day and we are going to work hard to get the United Rentals car to the front. (Sebastien) Bourdais started last here last year and won. With the pit windows and the fuel strategy and everything else now, there are big opportunities, so we’ve just got to think through it.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “It’s frustrating. We were obviously pretty good on blacks (Firestone primary tire). We were P2. It was just the wrong timing for the red flag for us. When you are at the back of the pit lane, you can’t get a quick out lap. I passed one car and I picked up the next car in Turn 10, so I had to back off. You can’t get heat in your tires. I had one lap, but I was four or five tenths off my fastest lap by the time I got to Turn 1. I came back some, but one lap…one lap for everybody is fine, but the guys at the other end of the pit got a quick out lap, so they could put some heat in the tires and we didn’t.”
Zachary Claman De Melo: “It was a tough session. We worked on the car all day. We struggled a bit in the morning session and there are some places that I need to work on as well. That said, I’m confident we’ll be fine for tomorrow. I’m always better in the race. And judging by how the team did last year with the team starting in the back and Seb (Sebastien Bourdais) managing to win it, and his teammate was third for a lot of the race, so I’m confident we’ll be OK.”
Jordan King: “It’s good, but I still think we should have been a bit quicker. I’m really happy. It’s all gone well. We made some really good progress from the first time. I can’t grumble too much, but when there was potential to be a little higher up you can’t help, as a racing driver, to want a bit more. It was quite slippery at Turn 1, and actually at the back of the circuit, it was really quite dry. But unfortunately, I almost went off at Turn 10 on my first push lap. I came in on the last lap a little bit tentative and looking at the time (of the last lap), that’s why I’m a little bit like, well, it could be more. I can’t complain for my first time. I don’t want to put too much expectation on it. We’ve got a good car. If I do my job, I’m sure the rest will unfold nicely.”
Spencer Pigot: “It was a messy session there with the red flag, then trying to find a gap to get a good lap in. I made a few little mistakes; one area, I accidentally upshifted twice when I should have only done once that that cost us. Overall, I am just frustrated. Hopefully we can get the Autogeek car back up front tomorrow where we need to be.”
Simon Pagenaud: “Mother Nature kind of got us today. The Menards Chevy was really good for qualifying but in the second round we just didn’t execute with our tires the right way for the rain we saw toward the end. We should have put on the red Firestone tires early on and that would have helped in the end. Instead we struggled to stay on track when it was wet and we couldn’t advance. The good news is we feel really good about the car for Sunday’s race and the Menards guys will work to get us up to the front.”
Charlie Kimball: “Our qualifying result might not have been exactly what we wanted, but at the same time we made progress every session on-track especially during qualifying. The No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet has run without any mechanical issues this whole race weekend so far and that’s a credit to the work of Trevor (Carlin), Colin (Hale), and all the mechanics at Carlin. We’re making progress, we’re learning. With new bodywork, there’s a lot to learn aerodynamically and mechanically for everyone. We’re making good progress and we’re learning quickly. I know we’ll be ready to put a good, clean race together tomorrow.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: We just got a little bit too aggressive with the car today. There at the end, I think it was just down to the drivers figuring out, and I was quick around the rest of the track, but I just didn’t get it together in Turn 1 and 2, and that’s down to me. Every time I passed start finish, they kept telling me P1, P1, P1, and then it fell from there the last two laps. But good job for these guys, and obviously to (Robert) Wickens. He certainly sorted out Turn 1 and 2 out there. It was like running on ice. Somehow those runway strips – we’re sitting so low in the car. You can’t really place your car and try to get around them because they’re so wide you have to get over them, and you can’t see them until you’re on them. It was definitely tricky out there. I’m surprised we didn’t end up with any cars in the wall. Fun session, though. That’ll definitely keep you on your toes.”
Takuma Sato: “I enjoyed qualifying. Obviously it was tricky conditions and I wish I could have been little higher but I’m not complaining. The Firestone Fast Six is just the best place to be for the race. The guys did a tremendous job in very tricky conditions. They sent me out in the perfect time. It’s a little bit of a shame because being on the front row would have been nice but the important thing is to have a strong car in the race which I believe we have.”
Rene Binder: “My first qualifying attempt in the Verizon IndyCar Series was most interesting, but challenging as it was more or less my first use of the Firestone red (alternate tires) set. We used two sets of tires with only two push laps. My focus was on maintaining a decent pace and not to push it to the limit, and to also understand the course and get comfortable. We will continue to go over the data we gathered and focus on identifying a good race set up for tomorrow.”
Max Chilton: “That’s the end of our first INDYCAR qualifying effort for Carlin. Both cars made big improvements throughout the weekend. Every time we went out, we felt better about the car balance and overall performance. Both Charlie and I felt pretty happy with our laps, but we were just lacking the speed we needed to advance into the second round. We aren’t where we’d like to be quite yet, but the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet is now definitely in a place where I’m happy with the balance which gives us a good race car. I think we should do better in the race tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to green flag.”
Jack Harvey: “Our first set on Firestone reds (alternate tires) went pretty well. We just couldn’t improve the right amount on the second set to progress. For now, we will just try to understand why that happened and how we can work on that for next time. Where we are starting will give us the opportunity to move up which is great. Now we will just look at strategy and try to see what we can do to have a good race.”
Gabby Chaves: “I am so proud of this team. Everyone has worked tirelessly this offseason to get here, and I’m beyond happy that we were able to go out on track and qualify in the top 10, especially after some of the issues we had after Practice 1 yesterday. This team works hard and I’m so excited to finally get to race tomorrow for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.”