If Graham Rahal could race on the streets of St Petersburg every weekend, he probably would, after setting a second record in as many visits to the Florida venue on Saturday.

Having become the youngest race winner in major open-wheel history when he took the chequered flag in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix, he duly became the youngest pole winner in IndyCar Series history when he survived the now familiar three-round knockout qualification format on his return to the circuit.

Rahal's Newman/Haas/Lanigan Dallara-Honda lapped the 14-turn, 1.8-mile course in 1min 02.4110secs to allow the 20-year and 90-day old American to snatch the record from IRL rival Marco Andretti, who's pole at Milwaukee last June - at the 21 years and 79 days - had reset the previous mark.

Rahal survived the first two rounds of PEAK Performance Pole Qualifying to advance to the Firestone Fast Six, but only entered the final session with the third-quickest time. However, despite not running what was believed to be the quickest tyre in the shoot-out, the McDonald's car came out of the ten-minute finale.

"We didn't really know what to expect because we had the primary tyres on there while a couple of guys had the alternates," Rahal confirmed, "The alternates were consistently faster today, so I didn't really know what to think."

It is the first IndyCar Series pole for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing since the unification of US open-wheel racing, having started second twice last year, at Milwaukee and Watkins Glen.

"It's an exciting day for me and a great day for the whole McDonald's team," Rahal added, "It's exciting to be here. I obviously love St Pete - it was good to me last year, and it's great to be on the pole this year."

Former incumbant of the McDonald's car Justin Wilson will start next to Rahal on the front row, as the Briton produced Dale Coyne Racing's best ever qualifying effort. Yet to secure an IRL pole, the result tied Wilson's personal best from Watkins Glen last season, but comfortably bettered the fourth-place Champ Car starts DCR achieved with Bruno Junqueira at Zolder in 2007 and Gualter Salles at Long Beach in 1998. Its highest IndyCar Series start was seventh at Edmonton last year, again with Junqueira, and Wilson believes that the outcome could have been even better.

"It's great that we're second," Wilson enthused, "We've worked hard together up to this point, and we're such a small team in comparison to the guys we're ahead of. So I'm very pleased.

"But, at the same time, I'm very competitive and, even on a small team competing against big teams, I want to be on pole, I want to be the fastest. We had the chance today, but unfortunately we got held up and that ruined our best two laps. We actually did our quickest lap on a second run on the same set of tyres, so there's a lot of potential in there. We just didn't get to get it out today."

Tony Kanaan and Ryan Briscoe will start from row two, while Dario Franchitti, competing in his first IndyCar Series points event since winning the championship in 2007, will share row three with Will Power.

Kanaan has now participated in 15 of the 17 Firestone Fast Six sessions held since the format was introduced in 2005, and has started in the top six in all four races at St Petersburg. The Brazilian has never finished below third, and will be looking to give Andretti Green Racing a strong start to 2009.

"It was quite competitive, and it was fun to see a lot of people trying to play different strategies on the tyres," the former series champion noted, "It was really tough - we saw that it was really close for fourth to eighth, and we thought if we don't put on the 'red' tyres, we're not going to make it to Q2. I ended up using my two red sets in Q1 and Q2, but it's really exciting when things happen like this. It think it's going to be really fun this year, competition-wise, because the field is much deeper."

Briscoe qualified fourth after making it through to the Firestone Fast Six for the seventh consecutive race - the longest active streak among drivers since Kanaan's seemingly unbreakable run ended in 2008. The Australian rose to the challenge of being team leader at Penske, but admitted that adapting to the introduction of the 'alternate' tyre for 2009 had made the weekend harder to plan for.

"Qualifying in the Firestone Fast Six is always an achievement, and we'll see if we can keep moving forward for the race," Briscoe commented, "It's going to be tough. We've got this alternate tyre, a soft tyre, that we all have to use in the race tomorrow.

"We all got a taste of it today, and it seemed like it had a little more grip, but, in the Fast Six, Franchitti went slower on it. We'll see what the temperature is [on race day] - it could be hurtful for a lot of cars in the race, but we've all got to use them at least once and it could mix things up. I'm really looking forward to it."

Franchitti ensured that reigning series champion Target Chip Ganassi Racing got at least one car into the top six, recording his twelfth consecutive start of fifth or better since Texas 2007, while Power belied his lack of experience with the Penske team to make it the only outfit with two cars in the Fast Six shoot-out.

"It was tough going, especially in the first session," the Aussie revealed, "The car would have been safe on 'blacks', but we weren't going to take the risk. It really threw a stunner in the works in terms of tyre selection, but we got through each round. It was hard work because I think we did five or six new tyre runs in a row."

Conspicuous by his absence from the final group was reigning champion Scott Dixon, and the Kiwi did not even make it onto the inside of row four, having been beaten to seventh spot by an inspired Alex Tagliani. The Canadian also qualified seventh in the non-points race at Surfers Paradise last year - before going on to finish fourth in the race - but had not sat in the Conquest car at all over the winter.

"I'm very happy with today, as it felt more like our first real day on track, since yesterday was more of a testing session, just getting back into the groove of things," Tagliani admitted, "We almost made it into the Firestone Fast Six, but missed it by just over a couple of thousandths. However, we made it in front of the Ganassi car of Dixon and three AGR cars, and I think that's pretty good.

"I think the team deserves a lot of credit. We came here at the last minute, and we know that there's more in the car that we need to learn, but we're just limited with time right now. I hope that we have more to come."

Dixon reported being 'consistent, but consistently slow', admitting that he never really got a decent lap in which to set the sort of time needed to progress.

"I think the concept with the red tires - even for the first go at it - added a lot of excitement," he claimed, "Not just for the fans, but for the drivers as well. Today was tough. You really had to piece a lap together, and I can't say I got any one lap together. It's so frustrating - getting knocked out of the top six is pretty tough, but we're going to work out something strategy-wise to make up those spots tomorrow."

Raphael Matos qualified ninth for Luczo Dragon on his IndyCar Series debut, the highest of the four rookies in the field, having made it through to the second phase of qualifying along with Panther's Dan Wheldon and Dreyer & Reinbold duo Darren Manning and Mike Conway, the three Britons filling spots 10-12.

NHLR's Robert Doornbos headed the group dismissed after session one, and will line up ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Danica Patrick, EJ Viso, Vitor Meira, Andretti, Hideki Mutoh, Mario Moraes, Stanton Barrett and Ed Carpenter on Sunday.