Will Power was quite unbeatable on the 2.04-mile, 13-turn track temporary street circuit in Balitmore, topping each stage of qualifying in which he ran by an emphatic margin and ultimately claiming pole position with a lap of 1:17.9750s (94.184mph) in the Firestone Fast Six pole shootout over half a second clear of the competition.
"Starting from the pole it is a lot easier to control your own destiny," said Power afterwards. "We'll focus on the job at hand and think about this race and doing the best we can - the best I can and the best that the team can.
It's his fifth pole of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series, and the 29th of his carrer in the series putting him on an equal footing with Dario Franchitti, and eighth in the all-time list.
But while he made it look easy - and in particular stayed out of trouble with the brand new chicane introduced on the frontstretch overnight, which caught out several other drivers during Saturday - Power said that the street circuit was a major physical challenge.
"This track is very physical, there are lots of turns and not many straights, especially now that they have added the chicane," he said. "But it is the same for everyone. It's going to be a good show for the Baltimore fans and we'll be plenty busy in the cars tomorrow afternoon. We'll be looking forward not back, that's for sure."
Mike Conway performed impressively in the AJ Foyt Racing #14 to post the second fastest time in round 3, but a grid penalty for an unapproved engine change will drop him down to 12th for the start of the race.
"Happy to get second, but with the engine change will be 12th. That's a bit annoying," the English driver admitted. "Could have been a front-row start. But it is what it is, the same for everyone. It is just going to make our day tomorrow a bit more challenging so we will see where we stack up during the first few laps on what we are going to do strategy."
The team will also have to put in some hours before the start of the race, as Conway was one of the drivers to get caught out by the curbing around the new chicane and jolted sideways into the wall, causing some major damage to the car that will need repairs. Conway will be hoping that it doesn't radically alter the handling of the car, which he said had been spot-on from the start.
"We got it out this morning and the balance was really good, so we didn't really change anything this weekend," he said. "Just sort of working on getting around the track and the challenge of the chicane. We were just trying to find a little bit more there on the last lap, and went too much."
Scott Dixon will inherit the vacant front row slot as a result of Conway's penalty.
"I think we gave up a little bit, definitely in the chicanes, and I think it's probably going to change again overnight," said Dixon. "It seemed to be a lot of risk to take and possibly break the car and take yourself out of Q1 and Q2 and not transferring. So, tomorrow's a new day."
His Ganassi team mate Dario Franchitti will he starting immediately behind him, but in third place for the second consecutive week will be Sebastien Bourdais, although the Frenchman was too busy aching to savour the achievement.
"I wish I wasn't bouncing so much, It would hurt less," he said, still suffering from the after effects of his crash with Josef Newgarden at Sonoma. "It was a pretty bad accident, and I got a very big hit inside the car. I'm physically pretty hurt right now so I don't know that will affect tomorrow. Hats off to the boys for giving me a great car and hopefully we can put it together for tomorrow."
Newgarden himself is absent this week after suffering a serious fracture to his finger in the accident. His place in the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing car is being taken by CART/Champ Car World Series veteran Bruno Junqueira who did impressively well to graduate from round 1 in qualifying despite this being his first weekend in the new DW12 chassis with the new-specification engines since he last competed in the series. He also lost most of his orientation time on Friday because of the problems with the bumps on the frontstretch before the chicane was reintroduced overnight.
"This weekend has been a big challenge because it's been several years since I've driven a single-seater Indy car," said the Brazilian. "In the first practice session I only got two laps because of the bumps on the track. In the second session I only got half an hour and the third session I finally got some laps in. So I had less time than I thought I would to get used to the car this weekend."
Even so, he qualified the car in tenth place - although an engine penalty held over from Newgarden's tenure in the #67 means he'll drop down to 20th on the grid.
"I managed to push hard in the first two laps of qualifying and ended up tenth. Who would have thought that we'd be in tenth?" he said. "It's a shame that we have to incur a 10 spot grid penalty tomorrow for the race. But I'm really happy with the whole Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team, they've given me a great car for my first race back."
Junqueira has further cause to celebrate in Baltimore, as he was also competing in the American Le Mans Series race at the same venue on Saturday afternoon - and would be starting from pole position.
It was a tough day at the office for several of the other series regulars, however, who found the new chicane especially difficult to cope with at speed and had accidents similar to those that afflicted Mike Conway at the very end of qualifying.
JR Hildebrand had damaged his Panther so badly with a crash into the wall there that he was unable to take part in the session at all, while Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson and Simon Pagenaud all had heavy contact during their qualifying laps.
"We didn't qualify today and we'll be starting last because I crashed this morning in practice," confirmed Hildebrand. "It's a major bummer for the guys. Obviously they're having to work really hard to fix the car. It was just a particularly inopportune time to have that happen.
"I think we'll consider our options today - there were a lot of guys that had very similar issues and accidents in qualifying today and they'll be starting at the back with us," he added. "A lot of those guys are the ones that we're fighting for position in the championship right now, so that's kind of gone our way a bit."
Rahal's accident came ten minutes into Group 1's round 1 stint on the street circuit, and caused a red flag that ended the session early - catching out several big names who had been saving themselves for late runs, including Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alex Tagliani and Rubens Barrichello. Rahal's fastest lap was deleted for triggering the red flag in the first place, leaving him at the bottom of the timesheets.
I was pushing really hard and just made a mistake," he said. "I felt really good in that area but I just hit the curb, the car completely launched in the air. Then, I hit the second one and there was just no hope.
"I landed on the railroad tracks and the car shot to the left," he added. "It's unfortunate because I think we were working on a really good lap. Our goal here was just to advance and get into the top-six but now we're going to start last so we have a lot of work to do."
Pagenaud was in the second group in round 1 and brushed the wall exiting the chicane near the end of the session. Although he didn't cause a red flag, his car was too damaged to allow him to take part in round 2.
"The car was really awesome. I think it was a car good enough for the pole, but I didn't do my job right today. I quite upset with myself," he said. "It's tough out there, but it's good fun. You're really dancing with the car. I really enjoy it. The crew did an awesome job trying to repair the car."
The team had even had to borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbours in their effort to get Pagenaud back out in time. "Thanks to Bryan Herta's team, they gave us a wishbone from Tagliani's car to put on my HP car," Pagenaud explained. "It was amazing for them to do that.
Justin Wilson was the finally casualty of the new chicane, bringing out the red flag midway through round 2. That meant that Wilson lost his fastest lap to that point, which had been good enough to put him through to the Firestone Fast Six; even so, he set the ninth fastest time and will likely move up to seventh place due to Conway and Charlie Kimball having grid penalties for unapproved engine changes.
Also known to be dropping down the grid for the start of the Grand Prix of Baltimore on Sunday are Junqueira, Takuma Sato and Simona de Silvestro.
Full qualifying times