Mike Conway scored his best-ever IndyCar qualifying result to earn a front-row start at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama later today – but he will line up beside the seemingly-unstoppable Will Power who is on pole.
The Australian won the first two races of the season as he returns from breaking three bones in his back in a crash last season and, with today’s race not expected to feature much overtaking, is the hot favourite to make it three from three.
Power said: “It was a good run today. I think three wins in a row is possible, but pretty tough to do. We are heading in the right direction – I just have to keep executing in the races.
“If we can stay up front and win that would be great, but if we aren’t in the position to do that, I just need to not make mistakes. We knew we needed to qualify in the front because it is difficult to get past anyone here. We expect a good crowd and hopefully a good race.”
In the two previous races Conway performed respectably but was outshone by his more experienced team-mate in Dreyer & Reinbold’s all-British line-up, Justin Wilson – this time the tables were turned as Wilson failed to make the Firestone Fast Six pole shoot-out.
Conway said: “This is my career best qualifying position, so I am excited about where we are starting. I owe a big thank you to the team who has spent a lot of time getting the car ready for this weekend. They are doing a great job, but we still have some work to do before the race.”
Wilson, who will start 11th, said he was “really happy” for Conway, adding: “The team worked hard to try and get into the Firestone Fast Six today, but we missed it by a tenth of a second. We had a good run on the Firestone Primary tyres, but when we bolted on the Firestone Alternate tyres we didn’t quite have the balance that we wanted. It will be tough to pass in the race, but the crew will make changes and we will try to work our way to the front in the race.”
Starting on the second row will be Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti, with Scott Dixon and Lotus/KV Racing’s Takuma Sato in fifth and sixth. Dario Franchitti, once a feature in every Fast Six session, missed out again and will start seventh. He said: “We’re disappointed obviously not to get in the Fast Six. I think we’re still missing just a little something. But to get into the Fast Six this time around was literally a few thousandths of a second. We just have a little more work to do in order to be where we want to be for the race.”
Alex Lloyd will start from a much-improved 16th place in the Dale Coyne / Boy Scouts of America car, but Dan Wheldon saw his best times wiped out as punishment for spinning and disrupting the session. This prevented him from advancing to the second stage of qualifying and he will start a lowly 23rd of 25, ahead only of debutant Bertrand Baguette and the hapless Milka Duno who was five seconds off the pole-sitter’s pace.
Wheldon said: “It was unfortunately my mistake going into the hairpin and obviously we lost our best two lap times because of that. The National Guard Panther boys had worked really hard over night and we had a much better car today than we had yesterday, which was really good.
“We were certainly capable of making it through to the second round. As a team we’ve found a lot more speed and we’re looking forward to the race – we just have to start a bit further back than we would have liked.”
In qualifying for the Indy Lights support race, St Petersburg winner JK Vernay took pole, almost half a second clear of AFS/Andretti team-mates Charlie Kimball and Martin Plowman. Stefan Wilson was sixth, Irish debutant Niall Quinn seventh, and James Winslow ninth.
Dan Clarke, debuting for Walker Racing in place of Jonathan Summerton, will start 11th with Pippa Mann beside him. The pair will be looking over their shoulders at the start as behind them on row seven are the two drivers who caused first-corner crashes in St Pete, Philip Major and Adrian Campos Jr.