ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Often when a driver hits the wall at one of the fastest portions of a street circuit, it forces the use of a backup car. Not so for Team Penske’s Will Power in opening-day practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and it didn't matter.
Hours after crashing in morning practice, Power drove his repaired No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to the top of the leaderboard in the afternoon session for the 2016 season opener of the Verizon IndyCar Series. It puts the two-time St. Pete race winner and 2014 series champion firmly in the "driver's seat" for Verizon P1 Award pole qualifying on March 12.
CLICK IT: Combined practice results | Day 1 highlights video
Early in his first stint of Practice 1 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Power’s car struck the wall between Turns 9 and 10, littering the circuit with debris and causing significant damage to the car's right side. Power was uninjured. The crew went straight to work, repaired the metallic-silver chassis and sent Power back out to complete 25 laps in the second session. Power's fastest lap on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit was 1 minute, 0.9431 of a second (106.329 mph), less than three-tenths of a second off the track record he set on his way to winning the pole in 2015.
“Definitely a bad start,” Power said of the morning mishap, “but full credit to the guys to get the car back out there, get some laps, get my head around the track and so on. Yeah, it was a good session. (We) ran in circles with the setup, but P1, pretty happy.”
Power has collected five pole positions in St. Petersburg, all in the last six years. The only time he failed to win the pole in that span was 2014, and in those six races, he has won twice and finished in the top two four times.
Each of Power’s poles and wins in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg have come as part of Team Penske, which has dominated the event with six poles and seven wins in the 12 races since the inaugural race in 2003.
“It’s just one of those tracks we’re quick with,” Power said. “It’s like Ganassi at Mid-Ohio (where Chip Ganassi Racing drivers have won seven of the last nine races). Even when we’re not that fast, things just fall the right way.”
Defending series champion Scott Dixon has won races at eight of the 15 circuits on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, but St. Petersburg is one that has long eluded him.
“St. Pete’s typically a bit of a thorn in our side,” said Dixon, whose best lap of 1:00.9573 (106.304 mph) put his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in P2 for the day. “I think the car has a lot of potential, which is good to see. Hopefully we can carry that through to tomorrow.”
Simon Pagenaud, who led the morning practice, was third fastest in the afternoon and overall in the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet (1:01.1796). Graham Rahal was fourth fastest in the No. 15 Steak 'n Shake Honda (1:01.2924), with four more Hondas in line after him.
Track action for the Verizon IndyCar Series continues with a third practice at 11:55 a.m. ET March 12 for a 45-minute practice session. The battle for the Verizon P1 Award commences with knockout qualifying beginning at 3:40 p.m. Live streaming of practice and qualifying is available at racecontrol.indycar.com.
Power believes his track record (1:00.6509) will fall with the availability of the faster Firestone alternate tires in qualifying. The Australian said a lap of under 1 minute isn't out of the question.
“Yeah, we’ll be pretty close,” he said. “I can’t say whether or not we’ll be able to get it below 1 minute, but … we’ll be close. We’ll try.”
The 110-lap Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg airs on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network starting at 12:30 p.m. March 13.