CLICK: Full qualifying results from Milwaukee
Penske's Will Power had been looking decidedly lukewarm in the two practice sessions preceding qualifying for the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest. He hadn't managed to break into the top ten in either of the one hour sessions during the course of Saturday.
But when it came to qualifying itself in the early evening, it was clear that he'd been biding his time for the right moment to wrong foot his main rivals for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, and the Australian came to life and blitzed the field on his way to what could prove to be a tactically crucial pole position in this year's championship.
Power's total two-lap time on the Milwaukee Mile was 43.1757s, representing an average speed of 169.262mph that was significantly faster than the best lap time posted by James Hinchcliffe in practice earlier in the day. It handed Power his third pole of the season and the 35th of his IndyCar career.
"Full credit to the Verizon crew," he said afterwards. "Definitely had a good car. I didn't think I would be getting pole today, but really happy about it."
Power's qualifying performance put him 0.1535s ahead of Tony Kanaan who has been one of the most consistent performers so far this weekend, and who will line up alongside Power heading into turn 1 on Sunday. However, the Brazilian admitted that he was still a little disappointed to lose out on the pole itself.
"When Will set that time I was surprised because I didn't think that I could do that," he conceded. "I knew the track was better [than earlier in the day] but that's typical Milwaukee qualifying. The car always feels much worse in practice than it does in qualifying.
"Hopefully tomorrow we'll challenge Will and some of the guys, I think we have a good car," he added. "I think we've got a chance. We're starting on the front row and we've just got to do our thing. We've been showing how quick we've been almost everywhere, we just need to get a little bit of luck on our side sometime."
Behind the front row pair will be Power and Kanaan's respective team mates, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Briscoe. While Montoya still has an outside chance of challenging for the title in the three remaining races of the season which take place over back-to-back weekends in the remainder of August, Power will be relieved to know that his main rivals for the championship are starting much further back.
“It's just a great start to the three-race chase you could say for the championship finish," said Power. "It's traditionally a track position race. In practice, it was definitely hard to pass so I can see it, you're going to be in traffic all day. You're going to be trying to pass people."
That's the challenge that awaits Power's team mate and closest challenger Helio Castroneves, who lines up in eighth place for the green flag. Meanwhile Simon Pagenaud is down in 16th place and Ryan Hunter-Reay will be starting from 19th.
"I knew that going out early was going to be a bit of a disadvantage," said Castroneves, lamenting his position in the draw determining the order of the single-car time trials.
"You could tell on the second lap that the track was just going to get better and better," he said, but quickly added that he was not giving up on a good result on race day.
"Starting up front is good, but it's not essential to winning. You can definitely pass here at Milwaukee and pit strategy is always key. I thought the Hitachi Chevy was decent in race mode. If we can find a bit more speed we can make it interesting tomorrow."
Hunter-Reay was rather more downcast with his situation going into the race, which he has won two times running in 2012 and 2013.: "We've had great cars here in the past, but just missed it here in qualifying. It's pretty frustrating but we can rebound tomorrow.
"We just missed the balance entirely today in qualifying, it wasn't even close," he admitted. "Unfortunately, we are going to have to pay for it tomorrow. I just hope we get out of the first couple of stints on the lead lap the way things are going right now."
As for Power, the extra point he gets for winning pole position could well prove important down the line, but right now he's only too aware that nice though the P1 trophy might look on his mantle, the real work lies ahead in the 250-lap race still to come.
"There's 100 points on the table at the last race, you know, but they all count. You've got to keep chipping away. Keep smiling and keep chipping away," he said.
Power's best result at Milwaukee was third place in last year's event. He also managed to finish fourth in 2011, but otherwise has three finishes outside the top ten - something he knows he simply can't afford if he's to keep his title bid on course this season.
"I've been in this situation quite a few times. So has Helio and Juan as well," said Power, who was the runner-up in the championship for three consecutive seasons. "But IndyCar is like that these days. It's very tight. It's so unpredictable.
"With three to go, I just think anything can happen. You just got to keep your head in the game and keep focused. That's my plan."
The ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 gets underway on Sunday afternoon at 2.45pm local time, 8.45pm BST. In the UK, the race will be shown live on subscription digital channel ESPN.See full qualifying results from Milwaukee