Will Power continued his impressive early season form in the IndyCar Series as he followed his victory in Sao Paulo with a pole position in St Petersburg.
The Australian Team Penske driver had been fastest in every practice session at the Florida temporary street circuit, and was equally dominant in the Firestone Fast Six pole shoot-out between the half dozen fastest qualifiers.
His 1min 01.6026 lap was more than a quarter of a second faster than second-placed Tony Kanaan – who was nevertheless pleased to be making his first front row start since the 2008 season.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s two-time series champion Scott Dixon will start third, next to Dreyer & Reinbold’s Justin Wilson – but Wilson’s fellow Brit, and Dixon’s team-mate, Dario Franchitti will have to start from 13th after failing to advance from the first stage of qualifying.
Wilson said: “I came out ninth, went down to 10:10 on my second lap and the brake pedal went all the way down to the bulkhead. I just didn’t have enough brakes there. It just got worse and worse as the run went on.
“Every trip around was an adventure and in the end, I decided to come in and park the car. I couldn’t get the job done. Best to not put it in the wall trying to find one position on the grid.”
Road and street course qualifying in the IndyCar Series sees the field split into two randomly-selected initial groups. The fastest six cars from each group progress to the next stage – and, from that, the top half dozen performers go for pole in the Firestone Fast Six session.
Usually a reliable Fast Six feature, Franchitti fell victim to a particularly quick first qualifying group from which last year’s championship front-runner Ryan Briscoe and three of the top five finishers in Sao Paulo – Dan Wheldon, Vitor Meira and Raphael Matos – also failed to advance.
Franchitti, who is driving this weekend in a car sponsored by a brand of toilet paper, said: “We had a good run, and the car didn’t slow down at all. Briscoe had some problems of his own, and I caught him in turn eight and got held up. That was unfortunate. The guys made some great changes to the car, and we were pretty quick after the crash in practice yesterday.”
Wheldon said: “It was actually a really good day in the National Guard Panther Racing car, but the IZOD IndyCar Series field is really close this weekend. The car is honestly working well – we just missed out by a little bit, but sometimes that’s how it goes.
“I know we’ve got a really good race car, and as everybody knows, anything can happen on these street courses. The entire Panther team is really excited about tomorrow, and we have a few things to work on in the warm-up tomorrow.”
The race will mark the 114th consecutive start for Buckinghamshire’s Wheldon – only Kanaan, with 115, has more. The former Indy 500 and IndyCar Series champion has a career total of 15 wins and 83 top-10 finishes, and has led 2,756 laps in the series.
Among those who did make the second round was Wilson’s team-mate Mike Conway, although he did not make it to the Fast Six, where the final two places were filled by Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti.
Conway will start 10th, a place ahead of ex-F1 pilot Takuma Sato who is debuting the new British Racing Green and yellow Lotus/Cosworth car colour scheme.
The Kent native said: “Today was okay – we worked on the problems from the third practice and got the car better. There are just a few little areas that we need to work on again.
“In all fairness, I didn’t quite get my lap together because I caught a car on my quickest lap. That’s qualifying sometimes and you just can’t help that. All in all, P10 is not too bad. We are definitely up there and anything can happen during the race.
“We will just work on a few things tonight and in the warm-up tomorrow and we will see what we have. Overall, I don’t think we are looking too bad.”
Dale Coyne Racing’s Alex Lloyd will start 22nd of 24, sharing the last-but-one row with Danica Patrick, after an eventful day.
Set-up changes gave him an unexpected speed boost in practice – so much so that he ran wide in turn eight hit the wall. The car was fixed just in time for qualifying and the crew found yet more speed when the session was disrupted for a yellow flag.
But, just as Lloyd was on his fastest lap, he suffered an electrical fault that took out his gearbox, ending his day.
The Boy Scouts of America-sponsored Englishman said: “I am really looking forward for tomorrow’s race, and I will be prepared. The car was by far the best it had been all weekend. I really think we would have been able to transfer into the top 12 if not for the events of today.”
* James Hinchcliffe qualified on pole for the Indy Lights support race, ahead of French rookie JK Vernay. The best British performers were Martin Plowman and James Winslow, who will share row three. Pippa Mann, who is ill but still able to drive, starts 13th of 16 while Stefan Wilson is 14th in the 16-strong field after crashing during qualifying.