Bryan Herta Autosport's Alex Tagliani has fond memories of Texas Motor Speedway: last year he claimed pole here for the Sam Schmidt Motorsport team, coming off starting on pole position at Indianapolis. And this year he was able to repeat the feat again - in Texas if not at Indy - with a two-lap average speed of 215.691mph putting him into pole for Saturday evening's Firestone 550k.
Tagliani posted two laps of 24.2730s and 24.2965s for a total time of 48.5695s, in the first race of the 2012 season utilising the traditional oval qualification format: each driver going out in a pre-set order to run one warm-up lap followed by two qualifying laps that together provide the average lap speed and total combined aggregate time.
Marco Andretti had been one of the early runners to go top with a qualifying effort of 214.424mph (48.8564s), but he was soon displaced from provisional pole by his Andretti Autosport team mate James Hinchliffe posting a qualifying speed of 214.920mph (48.7438s).
Hinchcliffe held on to the pole until Ganassi's Dario Franchitti went fastest with an effort of 215.646mph (48.5797s). Penske's Will Power seemed on course to better that when his first run was two hundredths of a second faster than Dario's, but he couldn't sustain the pace on the second lap when he hit the rev limiter and instead settled into second place between Franchitti and Hinchcliffe.
"Just got the hard limiter," said Power afterwards. "Totally killed it. Otherwise, it would have been an incredible run."
Power was further bumped down by Franchitti's Ganassi stablemates Graham Rahal (215.554mph, 48.6003s) and Scott Dixon (215.331mph, 48.6507s) - who also both had rev limiter problems - and it looked as though the team had a firm grip on the top three spots for the start of Saturday evening's long-distance race.
But then Alex Tagliani came out to show them how to do it, claiming the top spot by a margin of just 0.0102s. His 2012 pole time of 215.691mph exceeded that of the 2011 benchmark of 215.186mph, proving that the new-specification DW12 IndyCar and engine was already proving a match for its long-running predecessor.
"It was good," said Tagliani, praising the new Honda engine that BHA had signed up for after negotiating a split from their original engine providers, Lotus. "I think we're there. It's looking good for the rest of the year. Since Indy, we're really strong."
While it was Tagliani's third series pole and his second consecutive one at Texas, it was the first time that Bryan Herta Autosport will start at the front of an IndyCar race.
Two cars failed to post laps within 105 per cent of Tagliani's pole speed. In JR Hildebrand's case, a mistake on his out lap meant that he had to put in "a serious save on warmup" in order to keep it out of the wall: "Our aero-balance just came in way off," he admitted afterwards on Twitter. "Got some work to do for sure for the race, but I'm sure we can make it happen."