Qualifying master Power wins sixth St. Pete pole position

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – You would think it was a bad weekend to be Will Power. But at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it rarely is.

Battling a stomach virus and coming back after crashing his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in the first practice session March 11 for the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, Power persevered in a big way today. For the second straight year, the Australian broke the track record for the 1.8-mile temporary street course on his way to winning the St. Pete pole position for a race-record sixth time. It also gives Power 43 career poles, fifth most in Indy car history.

CLICK IT: Qualifying Results

In every session since the first-practice incident this weekend, Power has been fastest, but never as much as he was in qualifying. 

In 2015, Power set the St. Pete lap record at 1 minute 0.6509 of a second on his way to winning the pole. He beat that time in the first segment today with a lap of 1:00.5678 and bettered the record again in the second segment with a lap of 1:00.0658 (107.882 mph) that now represents as the track standard. 

Power won the pole with a lap of 1:00.2450 in the Firestone Fast Six.

“What a great run today for the Verizon Chevy team,” Power said. “It’s an awesome feeling to be able to put the new-look Verizon car on pole again here at St. Pete.”

It is the sixth time in the last seven years that Power will lead the field to the green flag on the 14-turn circuit that uses streets of downtown St. Petersburg and a runway of Albert Whitted Airport, but it may have been the toughest to achieve.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been feeling pretty ill all day," said Power, who has won the St. Pete race twice (2010, 2014). "It was a struggle to get through qualifying honestly. … The car was great today and a big credit to the guys for doing a terrific job in qualifying.”

As it did in 2015, Team Penske will start the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg 1-2-3-4 -- and in the exact same order. Simon Pagenaud’s No. 22 Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Chevrolet will start second (1:00.4421), followed by three-time St. Pete winner Helio Castroneves, driving the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, in third (1:00.4995) and defending race winner Juan Pablo Montoya in fourth in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:00.5312).

Scott Dixon, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, qualified fifth in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (1:00.5395), just ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda (1:00.8803).

“Good to see Chevy (sweep) the top five,” said Dixon, who has three second-place finishes in St. Pete but never a win in 11 tries. “Sad to see the first four being Penskes. That's the way it is.”

Twenty-two cars qualified for the race. A final warmup practice is set for 9 a.m. ET March 13 (a live stream is available at racecontrol.indycar.com). Coverage of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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