Will Power took his seventh pole position of the season for the inaugural IndyCar race on the streets of Baltimore on Sunday afternoon, but he was the first to admit that it had been a tough, close-run thing.
"The final run was absolutely everything I had in me and it was exhausting," he admitted after his final flying lap of 1:20.2447s on the 2.04 mile, 12 turn temporary street course that was just enough to see off Graham Rahal, who had been dogging him throughout the final Firestone Fast Six part of Saturday's qualifying session.
Graham Rahal had traded pole position back-and-forth with Power throughout that final ten minute part of the qualifying session but finally came up one run short of pulling it off, instead having to settle his for first front row start since he qualified second at Milwaukee in 2009.
"I had a good run going and my team told me where Will Power was on the tracker and they thought he would jump ahead of us," said Rahal. "I let the tyres cool off and tried to take a lap to get it back where we wanted it. I went into the chicane and came out and it wasn't that pretty [and] I lost some time there."
Power's main aim is to continue cutting back championship leader Dario Franchitti's lead, and with Power on pole and Franchitti stuck behind not only Rahal but also Power's Penske team mate Ryan Briscoe for the start tomorrow, he has every chance of getting back on nearly level footing in the points battle if they finish in those positions on Sunday.
"We are going to try to lead as many laps as we can and gain the points we need for the championship. We have to keep chipping away at it," he said. And pole position was crucial for that in his eyes: "Securing the pole position is an advantage here because you don't have to worry about trying to pass."
Franchitti had a rough time in qualifying, an overrun into turn 1 during the first round seemingly unsettling him when he ended up on the bubble for getting through to round 2 and very lucky to progress. Round 2 was scarcely any calmer for him with a couple of scares again throwing off his rhythm.
"I think we were quick today in the Kellogg's car but just not quick enough," he said. "Maybe didn't get everything out of it today but we'll keep at it. The crowd and the support from the city have been just incredible. It's a great atmosphere and hopefully everyone will be in for a good show tomorrow."
Franchitti's team mate Scott Dixon had a terrible time in round 2 and brushed the wall on at least two occasions, and never got a clean lap good enough to progress to the Fast Six final round pole shoot-out.
"It was kind of strange in the second session," he reflected afterwards. "We were fast in the first round and I'm not sure what happened. We bounced back this morning from the incident yesterday and looks like we're starting tenth tomorrow and will try to bring the Target car up from there."
Group 1 proved to be a tough crowd, with not only big names like Franchitti, Dixon, Briscoe and Rahal competing to get through but also strong performances from unexpected sources such as James Jakes (who missed knocking Franchitti out by a mere 0.1594s at the death), Giorgio Pantano and James Hinchcliffe.
"The track was really slippery in the beginning," said Pantano. "I tried to wait a little bit before going out and the times were just coming up. It was disappointing because the longer you could stay out the better, but unfortunately we just missed out in the end."
Hinchcliffe was baffled as to why he had fallen at the first hurdle: "It was pretty embarrassing to be honest," he said. "The struggle is I've got no real reason why we aren't starting higher. It's not that we got the setup completely wrong and missed the balance. It's not that I was making a lot of mistakes, the speed just wasn't there. It's kind of mystifying."
Jakes' Dale Coyne Racing team mate Sebastien Bourdais did make it through in the group, and went on to qualify in fifth place on the grid - although he felt he could have done even better.
"I was getting pretty close to being the fastest car there," he said. "We just don't have the consistency and the knowledge to make it all the time, session after session." His performance as well as Jakes' steady improvement is proof that "it's kind of all coming together and better late than never" for the team, as the four-time Champ Cars and Toro Rosso F1 driver put it.
Group 2 also had its fair share of drama, with Takuma Sato unhappy at losing his two fastest times for causing a full course caution which left him at the back of the grid, and Oriol Servia never getting a clear run after sustaining an early puncture on his left front tyre.
"I had a positive feeling in qualifying and after a few laps in traffic I was able to put in a time that would have got me through the first round of qualifying," said Sato. "Unfortunately, I was running a faster lap and on the downshift I had a problem and lost the drive and stalled the car which caused a caution. That meant I lost my two fastest laps.
"After the caution I got one more timed lap and ran a lap that again would have gotten me into the second round of qualifying, but again that lap was taken away. I am extremely disappointed with my qualifying position for the race, but I will try my best."
Servia was really upset with himself for a missed opportunity. "I just knew I had to push early and it was my second lap and I touched the wall in turn 12," he said. "The tyres were still a little cold and I just tried to push too soon. Then we changed the [punctured] tyre, went back out and a yellow came out so I only got one lap time after it went green.
"On top of that I also got confused on my splits and I thought I was in (the top-six) with three corners to go," he continued. "It's not like I took it easy but I didn't want to take too much risk but we ended up only a tenth-and-a half off. I'm really upset with myself."
There will be a 35 minute morning warm-up on Sunday for one last opportunity to fine-tune settings at 8.30am local time (1.30pm BST) before the race itself which starts at 2.45pm (7.45pm BST) and will be shown live by VERSUS in the US and by Sky Sports in the UK.
Full qualifying times and positions