Will Power had topped two of the three practice sessions on the streets of St Petersburg, Florida and would always the man to beat in qualifying - and in the end, no one could. He was the only man to fall below the 62s mark in qualifying and duly leads the field to the green flag at tomorrow's first race of the 2011 IndyCar season.
It was not entirely plain sailing for the Aussie, however, whose fastest lap of the afternoon came after he brushed a left-side wall and kinked the front wishbone of the #12 Verizon Team Penske car.
Dario Franchitti rebounded from a morning practice crash that had sidelined him for much of that session and left him bottom of the Practice 3 timesheets to claim the other front row position, with his Ganassi team mate Scott Dixon behind them on the second row in third position alongside Mike Conway, who proved that his consistent strong form here on his return to active duty for the first time in ten months was very real indeed. Indeed, Conway's new team mate Marco Andretti went as far as to acknowledge that “I have to credit Conway for the set-up we qualified."
Despite that, however, Conway seemed disappointed with how qualifying had gone for: "We were searching for a bit more in qualifying, but this series is so tough. It's always hard to make the Firestone Fast Six, so we are happy about that."
Ryan Briscoe and Justin Wilson were the other drivers to get through to the final six, while former team mates Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan were the fastest of those who failed to reach the top six shoot out - an especially good performance from Kanaan who was only confirmed in the seat just before the event got underway.
"I jumped into this car two days ago and the whole team made me feel right at home," said Kanaan. "I am just happy to be here and happy that I gave them a good solid qualifying result today. This is just the beginning and I have to remember to be patient, which is hard for me."
A new rule for qualifying obliged all drivers to nominate one set and style of tyres for each segment of the qualifying process, which started with two groups of cars running for 15 minutes, then the top 12 progressing to a second 15 minute round and after that the top six competing in a final ten minute "Firestone Fast Six" session to set the remaining top positions. The softer, stickier 'red wall' alternate tyres proved to be the overwhelming choice of the majority of the drivers throughout qualifying
"The Firestone reds are definitely a lot stickier than the blacks," said Power. "I ran used reds in the final segment and they lasted great, and were good enough for pole. We're starting off the year right, and in a great position for the race..
"If you want the longevity you go to the Firestone blacks," said Franchitti. "My bravery was going up as the tires were kind of going away a little bit. I needed to get on it a little quicker, but great job by the guys and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.”