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Power on pole ahead of Sato at St Pete

23 March 2013

As far as pole position goes for the IZOD IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg, it was very much business as usual: for the fourth time in a row, Will Power was very much in control. He set a new track record of 1:01.2070s, beating the previous best time he set this time last year, and is Power's 30th pole in the series.

"Very good start to the season," said Power. "Just had to get through the fast six and look after our tyres in the first two rounds then see what we could do that last one."

It had been more than enough as it turned out, but there were surprised around him as Takuma Sato put AJ Foyt Racing alongside Penske on the front row of the grid, and Simona de Silvestro scored her best-ever starting position in her first outing with KV Racing Technology.

"I thought it was going to be very tight," said Power. "It was good to see some new people up there. Like Simona, that's very cool, but I always knew, everyone always knew she was quick. Sato, we all know he's fast, so that's what you would expect."

"Between Will and I it's always getting close for us this weekend," said Sato. "Unfortunately we didn't get the fastest, [but] I am really glad for the team to get the 2nd position for the season-starter. it's really perfect."

And the Japanese former F1 driver fancied his chanced for the race as well: "We had a good car on the long runs so hopefully tomorrow we will be challenging for the winning."

Simona de Silvestro was thrilled with her impressive run to third place, the first time the Swiss racer has ever even made it through to the Firestone Fast Six in her IndyCar career.

"It's awesome!" she said. "The whole weekend has been going really well for us and it's really cool to finally get the results we wanted ... We were right there with Will and Sato who are usually are always up there and it's fun to be up there with them."

There was also an eye-catching performance from the only rookie in this year's IndyCar championship, Schmidt-Peterson's Tristan Vautier, who also made it through to the pole shootout round and will start from sixth place on the grid.

"I am happy with what we have, we have a lot of work on the car so we focused on that," said the Frenchman. ""I think looking at everyone, I think the chassis, we all struggled so much with the balance that there's so much work on this side that I don't really focus on whether my engine is the best or not."

Vautier was one of the few Honda drivers to do well in the first qualifying session of the year. Notably, the Ganassi pair of Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon had a poor showing on Saturday, with Franchitti only able to manage tenth on the grid and Scott Dixon consigned to 21st after being unable to progress from his Round 1 group.

"It's frustrating not being up there where we want to be," admitted Franchitti. "I had a car that had too much oversteer in the first session, and we tried something to correct that and it just produced understeer.

"We're struggling with the car a bit and made some small gains today, I think we'll be able to improve both cars a bit over night," he added. "We'll continue to work hard and see what we can come up with for the Target car tomorrow."

"We have just been a bit behind in getting the Target cars up to speed here this weekend for some reason," conceded Dixon. "I keep finding myself fighting understeer in the car. We have another day to work on it and will definitely be working on some solutions before morning warm-up tomorrow."

Team owner Chip Ganassi was certainly not happy with how things had gone so far in St Peterburg, and was starting to make some ominous rumbles about engine suppliers Honda.

"I think Honda has some work to do, but I think they know that," said Ganassi. "They said for years and years and years they want competition, now they've got competition and they are not talking about winning.

"I don't know if they want to win bad enough. They talk about everything at Honda but winning," he added. "I feel like they want to sit around and hold hands and sing. I want to win."

Ganassi is Honda's principal partner in the IndyCar Series with Team Penske and Andretti Autosports both aligned with Chevrolet, but in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ganassi's team already uses Chevy engines.

Not that things were going all the Chevrolet font-runners' way. Reigning IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was also unable to crack the top six on Saturday, and will start from eighth place immediately ahead of Franchitti.

"This morning we got aggressive with the setup and we tried some things that didn't really work, so we went back on it for qualifying and didn't quite hit the sweet spot," he admitted "Looks like we were less than a tenth off from being in the Firestone Fast Six [but] if you miss it by a hair, you're going to be on the outside looking in.

"Eighth is in the top 10 - we can start from there and still race for the win," he insisted. "Optimistic about that, just disappointed that we didn't get the DHL Chevy into the top six."

As for the pole sitter, Power was far from confident that it would be plain sailing for the #12 in tomorrow's race.

"I think it will have a lot to do with the weather," he said, saying that if it didn't stay dry then "It's just going to be one of the typical mixed-up IndyCar races where no one knows who's going to win.

"We just have to be smart and keep heading towards what we've wanted for a long time - which is a championship," he added.

Full qualifying times.
Full Saturday morning practice 3 times.
Full Friday afternoon practice 2 times.
Full Friday morning practice 1 times.


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