Ryan Hunter-Reay was celebrating his fourth IZOD IndyCar Series pole position on Saturday, after taking his second pole of 2013 with a new track record on the 11-turn 2.536-mile Sao Paulo temporary street circuit in Brazil.
"I gave it everything I had and it's great to get the DHL Chevrolet up front again and on pole," said the reigning series champion as he celebrated receiving the Verizon P1 Award. "That's three of the four races this year that we've been on the front row and twice on pole. I'm so happy for the guys and everything they've done for me.
"Tomorrow's when the challenge is, though," he added. "We thought we had a good car at Long Beach, and once we got into the race, I knew we were challenged and would be for the rest of the day. We need to make sure we've fixed those things this time and go out and have a great race," he added, pointing out: "Starting on pole here is a challenge because you are a sitting duck out front on the long straights."
Starting alongside Hunter-Reay will be EJ Viso, making it an all-Andretti Autosport front row with the Venezuelan looking strong all the way through what had proved to be an eventful Saturday afternoon qualifying session for the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300.
"I'm definitely feeling much better after today's qualifying," he beamed. "To be starting on this track on the front row is great. I'm very grateful for the great car that team gave me today. It was good enough for the front row, and I have a lot of faith in them that tomorrow we are going to have a good car in the race that is going to stay and keep that pace."
Dario Franchitti will start on the third row alongside local hero Tony Kanaan, who overcame an injured right hand to claim fourth spot on Sunday's race grid for what will be a landmark 200th consecutive start in the IndyCar Series.
"This is my home race, we have the fans cheering and the backing from my local sponsor. Starting in fourth in a street course is not bad at all and I think it's going to be weird seeing just three cars in front of me at the start," Kanaan laughed. "It was a great team effort by KV. We had a great car from the get go, but there was no way I could beat those guys that had sticker reds during the Fast Six."
Missing from the sharp end of the grid is Will Power. The Penske driver had topped both practice sessions earlier in the day, but had only just come out on track to set his first flying lap in his Round 1 group of qualifying when the red flags were waved for James Jakes, whose Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing #16 ground to a halt with mechanical problems in turn 7. With the session not resuming again before the clock ran out, Power will now have to overcome a 22nd grid position and salvage what he can from the race.
"Tough break today to not be able to qualify the way we wanted, its especially bad because the Verizon car had been so quick all day," sighed Power. "We felt pretty good going into the qualifying and unfortunately didn't have time to run the lap we wanted
"Now we turn the focus to doing the best we can tomorrow and getting the most out of the points," he added.
Jakes' times were deleted for triggering the red flag, but the British driver said that he hoped the team could find the problem in time to allow him to see what he can do from the back row of the grid: "We were working on the Acorn Stairlifts car all day and made some improvements before qualifying but we went out to make a run and had a problem with the engine," he explained.
"We're not quite sure what it is right now but we will identify it and try to come up with a solution," he added. "If we have a good car we will be able to pass and there are a few places to pass on this track so that should help but this is obviously not ideal."
The other round 1 group was also interrupted by a red flag, but this one was slightly more conveniently timed for the end of the ten-minute session and was caused by Tristan Vautier bouncing over the kerbs through turn 1 and clipping the tyre wall in turn 2. It made for the third session in a row that had seen the Frenchman have an accident of varying degrees, but he insisted that he was enjoying his first visit to Sao Paulo nonetheless.
"I really enjoyed the first practice," he said. "It's very slippery and there's a lot of fighting behind the wheel. It was fun, it was a lot of work and very hard to attack and not make mistakes."
Vautier is the only driver in today's field not to have races on the Sao Paulo street circuit before, but everyone is having to relearn the first part of the circuit after organisers remodelled turns 1 and 2 to reduce the kerbing and allow more room through the opening corners, in a bit to increase overtaking opportunities during the race which instead had resulted in a number of incidents on Saturday.
The track modifications were assessed as taking three quarters of a second off the overall lap time, and Hunter-Reay's pole position lap of 1:20.4312s (113.508mph) - three tenths ahead of Viso - was 0.8406s that Will Power's 2012 track record of 1:21.2718s that the Australian set in in a rather happier qualifying session 12 months ago.
Sunday's race starts at 11.30am EST (16.30pm BST) and is preceded by a short 30-minute warm-up session in the morning at 7am (Noon BST).Practice 1 times
| Practice 2 times
| Qualifying times and starting grid