The streets of St. Petersburg have been really good to Will Power over the years, as he has captured seven pole positions and has twice (2011, 2015) won the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Power, piloting the No. 12 Penske Chevy once again dominated the competition Saturday, using a last-lap flyer just as time expired to pick win pole for the eighth time in his 10 starts. His time of one minute, .4594 seconds was just good enough to knock teammate Josef Newgarden (1:00.55.70) out of the top spot as Power captured his 55th career NTT IndyCar Series pole to move even closer to Mario Andretti’s record of 67 career poles.
Along the way, though, Power may have given away one of the secrets to his…ummm, powers.
He took a nice afternoon nap.
“Yeah, actually I think it was the nap I had before,” Power said. “I actually had a really good nap. I wasn’t even stressing, I just fell asleep. It was good. My little guy (son Beau) was having a sleep at the same time, so the bus was quiet.”
Power’s run to the top of the grid capped a crazy qualifying session which saw many of the drivers in the first session fail to put in a really hot lap due to a red flags eating up their time. Tony Kanaan and two-time defending St. Pete champion Sebastien Bourdais didn’t get on track on time to clock a time, while Marco Andretti and Santino Ferrucci had their times wiped out for causing said red flags.
In session two, Scott Dixon, who spun on his own during the session, looked to be out in the first round, but advanced to the round of 12 when Takuma Sato was assessed a penalty. His Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Felix Rosenqvist, making his first IndyCar start, later advanced to the Fast Six when Colton Herta’s fastest lap was disallowed.
It was a mess that had the drivers calling for a better sense of fairness in future qualifying sessions.
“I think in that situation, everyone should get a chance of doing one lap,” Power said. “The rule used to be you had to leave the pit lane within 60 seconds and you got one chance. We were very surprised (to see) the checkered.”
“There’s a guaranteed green in the final round,” said Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi, who will start sixth Sunday, “so it would make sense to do something different, but obviously it’s above our pay grade.”
Both Power and Newgarden had struggled in the early practice sessions, but as the weekend went along the team’s cars began gaining a little more speed. They breezed through the first two rounds of qualifying, and Newgarden laid his provisional pole time down early in the Fast Six session before Power grabbed it in the final moments.
“(Friday) we didn’t have the best cars, we just didn’t,” Newgarden said. “We were scrapping to get in the Top 10, and so we made a big leap today, and it takes people to do that. You’ve got to put the right people together, and you’ve got to be able to work through it every weekend, and I think we do that — I would say we do it the best.
“I for sure want to execute better and get the pole, but we’re both 1-2, and that’s going to play really well for the race, so we can hopefully protect each other and get a good result in the race, which is what’s most important.”
IndyCar’s “Big Three” of Penske Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport took up the first six spots on the grid, and in a strange set of circumstances, each team occupies one row. Of course, Power and Newgarden are the front row, with CGR drivers Rosenqvist and Dixon take Row 2, while Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rossi carry the AA colors in Row 3.
“Yeah, that was like Christmas, I guess,” Dixon said of his good fortune. “I don’t know. It was scrappy. I think we changed front springs three times, front rear toes, the front wing. It was a bit of a mess. We struggled to get the balance a little bit. Q1 I think we were knocked out until the infraction with Sato and had a spin in Q1, so it was almost like first day back at school and was just a mess.
“But we made the most of it. We could have been 14th, but we’re starting fourth. (It’s) great to have Felix here. He did a hell of a job, and hopefully we can have a podium finish for both the No. 9 and the No. 10.”
Rosenqvist, who won the Indy Lights race at St. Pete in 2016, has put together a solid weekend in his first run in the No. 10 CGR machine. He was fast off the truck, posting the top lap in Practice 1, and was eighth-quick in Saturday morning’s final practice.
“Like Scott said, it was a bit of a Christmas Day for us,” he said. “Group 1 was just really messy. I didn’t really have a lap and I was just worried I wouldn’t go through. Then I actually pulled together a really good lap (in the Fast Six), probably the best lap I done all weekend, so it felt like we performed when we needed to. Yeah, it’s fantastic to be Top 3 already and be next to Scott on the grid. Like Scott said, I think we have some things to work on, but the potential of the car seems really good.”
On the flip side, Hunter-Reay seemed disappointed with his day. The Florida native was fastest in Practices 2 and 3, and in the first round set the best time of qualifying with a lap of 1:00.25. He couldn’t duplicate that effort in the Fast Six, ultimately falling about a half-second short of Power.
“A bit disappointed obviously with qualifying,” Hunter-Reay said. “We were pretty strong in the previous sessions, and we turned the fastest lap today in qualifying, but it was in the wrong session, unfortunately. I just struggled on the used reds (tires), I really did. I couldn’t do anything with them and felt like a fish out of water with the used reds. We’ll have to look at that and figure out what we need to do for tomorrow.
“But yeah, we’re in the Fast Six. We’re fifth, so we can definitely do something from there. It’s a matter of getting a good, predictable race car for (Sunday). I think we know what we need to do for it, it’s how you get it out of the setup of the car. Yeah, definitely a bit disappointed, but it’s good to be disappointed with being in the Fast Six, I guess.”
Jack Harvey, Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal round out the Top 10, respectively. Herta’s penalty relegated him to the 11th starting position, while two-time defending champ Bourdais will start 19th.
The cars will be on track from 9:20-9:50 a.m. EDT for the morning warm-up session, with the green expected to fly around 1:40.