CLICK: Full qualifying 1 results
Simon Pagenaud will start Saturday afternoon's Verizon IndyCar Series race in Houston from pole position for the first time, after he posted a time of 59.3716s (99.078mph) on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit in the Firestone Fast Six final round of qualifying.
"The car is awesome and has been all weekend," said Pagenaud, who is the seventh different pole sitter in the nine races of 2014 so far. "It's going to be a long and physical race, but we'll be ready. Starting from pole during a standing start is important to avoid any problems."
The Frenchman's previous best grid position had been third place in Mid-Ohio in 2012 and Baltimore in 2013 - the latter of which yielded a race win. It's also the first pole position for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsport since June 2011 at Texas Motor Speedway with Alex Tagliani at the wheel.
Pagenaud's time was a slender 0.0236s ahead of Penske's Helio Castroneves, who will start alongside him on the front row for race 1 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader.
Ganassi's Scott Dixon will start from third place on the grid, after he survived an early scare in his first round qualifying group where it took a very late final run to put him into six place to enable him to progress although he had to bump his team mate Charlie Kimball out of qualifying in the process.
Dixon will start alongside Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing's new boy Luca Filippi, who put in an outstanding performance to make it all the way through to the final round of qualifying against seasoned competition. James Hinhcliffe (Andretti Autosport) and Takuma Sato (AJ Foyt Racing) also made it through to the pole shootout.
Castroneves, Pagenaud and Dixon now have an ideal opportunity to narrow the championship lead held by Will Power, after the Australian was a shock first round elimination. He admitted afterwards that the team had simply gone the wrong way on set-up for the #12, and he will now need to rely on some serious strategy to enable him to recover from 18th place on the grid.
"It's a much more difficult track to come from the back," said Power, who won race 1 in Detroit from 16th pace on the grid earlier this year. "But in IndyCar races anything can happen."
There were no red flag stoppages during qualifying. However, Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing) was furious to miss out on the Firestone Fast Six and complained that he had been held up on a flying lap by Pagenaud's team mate Mikhail Aleshin; the race officials investigated the incident but decided to take no action. Ironically, Bourdais and Aleshin will now start the race side-by-side in ninth and tenth positions respectively.
Race 1 will feature a standing start. The 90-lap event is scheduled to get underway at 2.45pm (8.45pm BST) on Saturday; in the UK, the race will be shown live on ESPN.
Qualifying for the second race of the doubleheader will take place on Sunday morning. Rather than the elimination format used today, it will be based on the best lap times achieved by each driver within a half hour session starting at 10am local time (4pm BST).
Full qualifying 1 results