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.