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Power puts Penske on pole in St Pete

28 March 2010

Will Power continued his strong start to the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg weekend by claiming the PEAK Pole Award on the 1.8-mile street course alongside scenic Tampa Bay.

The Australian, having gone fastest on the opening day, posted a best lap of 1min 01.6026secs in the final phase of the Firestone Fast Six qualifying session to claim the third pole position of his short IndyCar Series career. Previous top spots have led to victory in Edmonton and second place in Long Beach, and Power has already shown his prowess on street circuits this year by winning the season-opener in Sao Paulo two weeks ago. Power has topped every practice session this weekend, and set the track qualifying record for St Petersburg in the second round of qualifications at 1min 01.4816secs.

"It's a good weekend so far for Verizon Team Penske," the Australian admitted, "We're still at the front, so I'm very happy. It's been a process. We've been working away at it and go through each session and look after our 'reds'. I came away with pole, and we would have been disappointed if we didn't given our pace this weekend."

Tony Kanaan, who also participated in the Firestone Fast Six in Brazil, will join Power on the front row for the 100-lap race after posting a lap of 1min 01.8797secs in Andretti Autosport's Team 7-Eleven car. It was the Brazilian's best starting spot on a road/street circuit since winning the pole for the St Pete event in 2008.

"It feels good," he admitted, "I haven't started on the front row in a while, so I think we did a great job. We took a gamble on the tyres, and went out on the blacks in the Fast Six, but it paid off. It's nice to have Michael Andretti there because I was keen to start on the reds, and he said 'no, no, we're going to the blacks', and we can't say 'no' to the boss. It's a whole different atmosphere on the #11 team right now. I am enjoying it. Hopefully, no-one had hits me from behind like in Brazil, and we will be able to have a good race tomorrow."

Scott Dixon will make a series-record 34th consecutive top ten start from third spot, while Justin Wilson will line up alongside the Kiwi in the best of the Dreyer & Reinbold entries.

"I think the team did a good job, as we had a seventh‑place car and worked on it," Dixon commented, "It generally got better, and I like to think I generally race better than qualifying, because qualifying has been pretty bad the last few years on street courses. I'm looking forward to the race, but I think weather is going to be an issue, so it might stir it up a little bit like Brazil."

Wilson reported that his #22 car felt 'really good', and that he was 'happy with the progress we made in the week's session', but felt that he could have been higher up the grid had it not been for a problem he really didn't want to have on a tight street course.

"We decided to run on the black tyres, because we were being a bit too hard on our red options," the Briton revealed, "I came out ninth, went down to 10:10 on my second lap - and the brake pedal went all the way down to the bulkhead! I just didn't have enough brakes there, and it just got worse and worse as the run went on. Every trip around was an adventure and, in the end, I decided to come in and park the car. I couldn't get the job done and thought it best to not put it in the wall trying to find one position on the grid."

Previous qualifying record holder Helio Castroneves, who missed the 2009 event while he fought his much-publicised tax wrangle, will share row three with Kanaan's team-mate Marco Andretti, while Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished second to Ryan Briscoe in the '09 race, only just missed advancing to the Firestone Fast Six by 0.0014secs, and will start seventh alongside FAZZT Race Team's Alex Tagliani. KV Racing Technology's EJ Viso and Dreyer & Reinbold's Mike Conway round out the top ten.

"We're disappointed with seventh, and that means the IZOD team has a pretty strong effort going," RH-R admitted, "We missed out on making the Firestone Fast Six by just thousandths of a second and missed being in the top three by half-a-tenth. It's just ridiculously close, and that's the way I felt it would be, but we'll go out and do what we did in Brazil. We'll do a good solid race, the guys will do great stops and we'll work our way to the front. The Andretti cars are obviously strong; Marco and Tony are right up there with us, and that is good to see."

The notable casualty of qualifying was reigning champion Dario Franchitti, who failed to qualify for the Firestone Fast Six for the first time when he was knocked out in the first round. The Scot started from the pole for the season-opener in Brazil and was the only driver to participate in all seven Firestone Fast Six sessions in '09, but will start 13th in the #10 Target Chip Ganassi entry, his lowest road/street course starting position since lining up 21st in 2005 at Infineon Raceway.

"We had a good run, and the car didn't slow down at all, but Ryan Briscoe had some problems of his own, and I caught him in turn eight and got held up," Franchitti commented, "That was unfortunate, as the guys made some great changes to the car, and we were pretty quick after the crash in practice yesterday."

Former race winner Graham Rahal, competing this weekend for Sarah Fisher Racing, will start a frustrated 16th after throwing all of his experience at the #67 car, but is three places ahead of Briscoe, who qualified 19th, the lowest starting spot of his IZOD IndyCar Series career on a road/street course.

"We were the first car to go out on red tyres and then we went to blacks, and it was really just bad timing," the Australian admitted, "The track got quite a bit quicker, and we needed to be on reds at the end of the session. It's a bit disappointing as the Team Penske car has been fast all weekend and we have a good car for the race, but we're going to be starting from farther back than we should be. We'll be all right. I have a great crew and the best race strategist there is. We just have to avoid any first-lap accidents, and we should be able to have a solid race."


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