Power rises quickly to top in Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete qualifying

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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Surprisingly, Will Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was absent from the top of the time sheets over the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg’s first three practices. When it mattered most, the Australian answered the call and earned his seventh pole in eight years on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: Qualifying results

In today’s waning moments of qualifying, Power posted a lap of 1 minute, 1.0640 seconds (106.118 mph), sealing his 45th career Indy car pole, which is good enough for fifth all-time. The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion will look for his third win at the circuit come Sunday.

“It takes obviously a very good team and kind of getting through that first round there,” said Power, whose lone lap in the opening of three knockout qualifying segments was quick enough to advance while also saving his Firestone alternate tires for the final round, the Firestone Fast Six.

“Definitely had a good moment on the tires in the last round there, so yeah … very happy to be on pole. Really tough competition.”

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (No. 9 GE LED Lighting Honda) appeared to be the driver to beat for the majority of the weekend, leading the second practice Friday and this morning’s session, where he posted a lap of 1:01.6240 (105.154 mph). Dixon also paced the first two segments of qualifying, but admitted a mistake on his flying lap of the Firestone Fast Six ended his chances at the Verizon P1 Award.

“Honestly, I think the team and Honda did the job, I just did not,” said Dixon, who matched his best starting effort at St. Pete of second, which he last accomplished in 2006. “Came up short, made a pretty big mistake on my fast lap, which definitely disappointed me. We’ve had a pretty smooth weekend, the car’s super-fast but came up short. But it’s qualifying, hopefully tomorrow I can redeem myself and maybe snap up an extra spot.”

The Kiwi has finished runner-up at St. Pete on three occasions, but has yet to find victory lane at the circuit, where he will make his 13th start Sunday.

Following Dixon on the grid were 2013 St. Pete winner James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda), whose best lap of 1:01.3039 (105.703 mph) earned him his best start at St. Pete. Also achieving his best qualifying position at the track was Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet), who will start his first race for Team Penske from the outside of Row 2.

Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato amended for a rough Friday, which saw him tag the Turn 13 barrier in practice, by qualifying his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda in the top five in his debut with the team.

While Sato rejoiced in a successful qualifying, teammate Marco Andretti (No. 27 hhgregg Honda) and defending series champion Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet) found frustration. Neither advanced from Segment 1, despite both showing speed in the weekend’s practice sessions.

“This (qualifying result) is hard to swallow,” said Andretti, who led Friday’s first practice and ran in the top 10 in the subsequent two. “We just overreacted because we were really loose on (the Firestone primary tires). So, we overreacted with the car setup and it wouldn’t turn on the (alternates). … 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.”

All 21 cars return to the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg circuit at 9 a.m. ET Sunday for a final 30-minute warmup practice, with a live stream at RaceControl.IndyCar.com. The 14th Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg airs live at noon ET Sunday on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.


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