Last year's pole position time of 1:08.0776 was completely shredded in 2012, and not least by the final two laps posted by Penske's Will Power who finally claimed pole with a lap of 1:05.6474s almost a quarter of a second out of reach of second place man Dario Franchitti.
Power made his fourth pole position of the season look easy, but he insisted that it had been anything but.
"I am so tired after this session I am shaking, this place is so physical," he told radio reporters immediately after stepping from the cockpit. "This session today is the hardest I have tried all year. I just kept pushing and pushing. I had to. It is the most that I have put into a lap. We needed that pole."
Power will be further buoyed by the fact that the two drivers ahead of him in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship - Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves - will both start outside the top three rows. Hunter-Reay will line up in seventh place on the grid, while Castroneves has to be satisfied with 12th after nursing his sprained wrist through the tough session.
Scott Dixon looked like being Power's main threat, but didn't feature strongly in the Firestone Fast Six and instead he'll have to see what he can do with a fourth place start.
Qualifying for the Honda Indy 200 took place in dry conditions on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn permanent road circuit at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, although rain looked to be looming on the horizon ahead of the American Le Mans Series support race in the afternoon.
The session followed the standard road and street course format, which saw half the field running in the first 15-minute Group 1 and the other half in Group 2. After a five minute pause, the top six from each group progressed to the ten-minute Top 12 session, with the top six from that round then going through to the pole shootout Firestone Fast Six round.
Full qualifying times from all three rounds
are available.Round 1 - Group 1
The first part of qualifying featured Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, James Jakes, Alex Tagliani, Mike Conway, Oriol Servia, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Justin Wilson, Rubens Barrichello, Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro.
As is usually the case, it was a slow start for qualifying with no one - not even HVM Racing's Simona de Silvestro - opting to come out on the track in the first six minutes. Brits Mike Conway and James Jakes finally blinked first, with Ryan Hunter-Reay next followed by Helio Castroneves, able to take part in the session as normal despite his wrist injury sustained in the morning practice session. After that, the rest of the cars came out in a flood.
Conway's first lap was 1:13.0469s, a good six seconds slower than the expected final qualifying times and so it was no surprise to see his time drop to 1:09.8720s next time around. He was trading the top spot with Castroneves who was showing little sign of being hampered by his wrist injury; Justin Wilson, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon also briefly headed the timesheets as times continued to get squeezed.
Alex Tagliani - who will take a ten place grid penalty for an engine change for tomorrow's race - went top with a time of 1:06.5652s with two minutes left in the session and then bettered his own benchmark by another three tenths to stay ahead of the growing threat of the other drivers as the chequered flag came out.
Once again pipping the field with a late flier was Justin Wilson, going top with a new qualifying record for Mid-Ohio of 1:06.1029s, 0.1012s ahead of Tagliani. Dixon, Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud also all made it through, while a late run for Oriol Servia secured the final place to progress to Round 2, bumping Castroneves out of the session at the last minute.Round 1 - Group 2
The second group featured Will Power, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Josef Newgarden, Dario Franchitti, Sebastien Bourdais, JR Hildebrand, Ryan Briscoe, James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato, EJ Viso, Giorgio Pantano and Ed Carpenter.
Once again it was a very sluggish start to proceedings, with Takuma Sato, EJ Viso and Ed Carpenter not making a move until there were under ten minutes remaining. The rest of the cars started filing out a minute later, headed by Giorgio Pantano in the #83 substituting for the injured Charlie Kimball.
Sato laid down a first lap of 1:11.0359s, and while he took off nearly a second next time around it paled next to the efforts of James Hinchcliffe (1:08.8572s) and Will Power. Sato briefly recovered the top spot only to see Giorgio Pantano, Josef Newgarden and Hinchcliffe again surge past him. Then Will Power laid down a marker of 1:06.4933 on only his second flying lap, which was bettered a minute later by Sebastien Bourdais recording an impressive time of 1:05.9031s.
Confident of progressing through to round 2, Bourdais and Power pitted after that effort and left the rest of the drivers to fight it out for the remaining spots, which finally went to Dario Franchitti, Ryan Briscoe, Marco Andretti and Josef Newgarden. JR Hildebrand and James Hinchcliffe missed the cut, while early leader Sato ended up in ninth.Round 2 - Top 12
Through to Round 2 were Justin Wilson, Alex Tagliani, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and Oriol Servia from Group 1; and Sebastien Bourdais, Will Power, Dario Franchitti, Ryan Briscoe, Marco Andretti and Josef Newgarden from Group 2.
Most of the drivers were out within three minutes of the start of the ten minute Round 2 session, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Justin Wilson the first to hit the track. Wilson's first effort was 1:08.5263s over a second and a half faster than the championship leader, while further back the traffic bunching up was causing headaches for many drivers.
Wilson lowered his time to 1:07.0025s with his next run, but that wasn't enough to stop Scott Dixon going fastest with a lap of 1:06.8011s. Dixon saw off pacey challenges from Marco Andretti and Will Power by improving to 1:06.1026s before being briefly unseated by Ryan Briscoe; he was able to slam in a lap of 1:05.8055s with a couple of minutes remaining in the session to go back to the top with the fastest time of the weekend.
That was enough to hold onto the leading position ahead of a final burst from Alex Tagliani just four hundredths of a second back; Will Power and Dario Franchitti were also comfortably through while a late flier from Simon Pagenaud booked him passage to the Firestone Fast Six just ahead of Ryan Briscoe, bumping Bourdais out into seventh place despite the Frenchman still posting a time under 66s. Significantly, Will Power's main rival for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship, points leader Ryan Hunter-Reay, also missed the cut in the final seconds.Round 3 - Firestone Fast Six
The last six standing were Scott Dixon, Alex Tagliani, Will Power, Dario Franchitti, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Briscoe.
It was no surprise that the peace and quiet in pit lane to be undisturbed by engine noise for the first four minutes of the ten minute pole shootout. Will Power was the first to finally break cover, followed in hot pursuit by Scott Dixon and then the rest of the field grudgingly springing into action in response.
Power's initial lap of 1:08.8217s was immediately bettered by six tenths of a second by Dixon, and then Dario Franchitti slammed in a time almost a second faster still with a lap of 1:07.2065s. Pagenaud bettered that by 0.0358s, and before he'd had time to draw breath Power found himself sitting at the bottom of the standings as he toured around a second lap. But that was just preparing himself for his next real effort, which proved to be a stunning 1:05.6662s to go top by almost a quarter of a second over Franchitti's latest effort.
It turned out that the only man who could beat that time was Power himself, who posted a new, improved lap of 1:05.6564s as the chequered flag came out to ensure his fourth pole position of the 2012 season; Franchitti held on to the other front row spot with Simon Pagenaud just claiming third spot ahead of Alex Tagliani. Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe had to accept the remaining positions in the top six for the Honda Indy 200.
Some thundery showers are possible for race day, which will start with a half hour Sunday warm-up session at 8am that sets the stage for the race itself, starting at 1pm (6pm BST) and shown live in the UK on Sky Sports.
Full qualifying times
and unofficial provisional starting grid available.