Will Power claimed his first PEAK Performance Pole Award at the same circuit where he took his last race win, producing the perfect audition for a season-long future in the IndyCar Series with top spot in qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The Australian, who won the last ever Champ Car event on the famous street circuit a year ago, swapped cars between practice and qualifying before taking the new #12 Verizon Wireless-backed Penske entry to top spot in the Firestone Fast Six shoot-out with a lap of 1min 09.7107secs. He edged Target Chip Ganassi's Dario Franchitti by 0.1568secs as Penske put all three of its cars into the top ten, with Helio Castroneves jumping straight from courtroom to cockpit and putting the #3 machine onto the fourth row. St Petersburg race winner Ryan Briscoe qualified tenth in the team's other car.
Having made it through to the final segment of knock-out qualifying, Power became only the third driver to jump from sixth to first during the Firestone Fast Six - ironically following in the footsteps of team-mates Castroneves and Briscoe - as he claimed Penske's 42nd series pole. It was the Australian's first IRL pole, bettering a previous best start of second from St Petersburg a year ago.
“It was obvious in the first session that you had to use the [Firestone] 'reds' to get through," Power noted, "so it was a matter of saving your reds a little bit and saving your energy to the final round. That's sort of what I did. I saved my big lap until the end.
"It was a great job by the team. They had to swap everything over on this car, with an all-new crew, new engineer and everything. They did a good job, and we're looking to have a strong race tomorrow and hopefully move up in the championship.”
Franchitti continued his strong return to the series he won outright in 2007, making the Fast Six for the second straight race and bettering his St Pete start by claiming the front row spot alongside Power.
“I'm happy to be back at Long Beach - I love this track, I love the atmosphere," the Ganassi driver enthused, "The balance of the car was really good at the end, but I was just trying to get a clear lap. You run to the limit so much here in qualifying, and we had a really good lap going, but I ran out of fuel in turn nine. Starting second's not bad though - it's better than fifth at St Pete - and the team did a great job rebuilding the car after I had a little indiscretion this morning.”
The second row will be filled by drivers posting career-best qualifying results as rookie Raphael Matos and second-year driver EJ Viso claimed third and fourth for Luczo Dragon and HVM respectively on their first visit to the Fast Six finale.
Reigning Indy Lights champion Matos bettered his previous best start, ninth on debut in St Petersburg two weeks ago, with a result that also saw Luczo Dragon improve on the fourth-place start it took with Tomas Scheckter at Kansas in 2008.