It was always expected that the introduction of the new chassis and engine specifications for 2012 would shake things up a little and leave some teams struggling while allowing others to take advantage to leap forward - and that's exactly what happened in qualifying on Saturday.
Even so, the sight of reigning four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti down in 18th place on the grid for Sunday's Honda Indy Grand prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park is a bit of a shock. The Scot struggled to optimise his set-up and locked up pushing too hard on his final flying lap of round 1, finding himself left outside the top six positions that went through to round 2.
"Lack of balance overall really," he summed up. “Lack of track time too - and we haven't been great so far." Being in a particularly tough round 1 group hadn't helped either, but Franchitti wasn't making excuses. "Not where we want to be but we'll go back and work on it."
At least his Ganassi team mate Scott Dixon made it through that round and indeed all the way into the final Firestone Fast Six pole shoot-out. But in the end, Dixon's best lap wasn't enough to oust Penske's Helio Castroneves from pole position.
“It's a great result,” said a delighted Castroneves. "It's better to be lucky than good, and so far, it's paying off."
Starting alongside Castroneves on the front row will be Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe, the 2011 Rookie of the Year so far easily managing to avoid the year two doldrums that some drivers struggle with, and instead showing increasingly strong pace.
"Obviously a great start for us to be on the outside of the front row. It's my best start and it's a great result after the way practice went yesterday," said the Canadian. "I knew we had good tires for the run and the pole. To miss it by half a tenth is just gutting, but it's a great start for us."
Castroneves and Hinchcliffe were easily the best-positioned drivers of their respective teams, with Penske's Will Power looking faster than anyone in round 2 but then getting caught out by a late red flag caused by Ryan Hunter-Reay spinning in turn 9.
"It's a pretty frustrating qualifying result," admitted Power. "I know IndyCar threw the red flag there but I'm not sure why they didn't allow our fast lap. It's definitely going to be tough starting ninth tomorrow, but we know we've got a fast car. We have to have a good start and be strong on the restarts and hopefully work our way up front."
"I got too greedy," explained Hunter-Reay of this accident that triggered the red flag. “It's completely my fault. There's a fine line between hero and zero in qualifying.”