CLICK: Full qualifying results and times from Sonoma Raceway
There was no question about it coming in, Sonoma Raceway is one of Will Power's favourite racetracks. He's been on pole here three times already and has a hat-trick of wins on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course at Sears Point in California.
On Saturday, he wasn't about to allow anyone to get in his way as he set his sights on the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, a title he's wanted for years only to be denied time and again by others including Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.
With his eyes on the prize, Power successfully clinched the first part of the deal on this penultimate weekend of the season by claiming a fourth pole at Sonoma with a lap of 1:17.4126s (110.912mph) in the final Firestone Fast Six pole shoot-out round of qualifying, although he'd gone even faster - and set a new track record of 1:17.2393s (111.161mph) in the process - during the first round.
"To get the Verizon Chevy to start up front tomorrow, it puts us in a good position," said a happy but cautious Power as he received the Verzon P1 pole award. "If it's a normal sort of strategy we've put ourselves in a great position to win the race, but you know how these races go. You've got to get everything right on race day and we're going to try and do that.
"It's definitely less pressure starting up front just for the fact that you're not in and amongst the action," the Penske driver agreed. "It is a very track position race. It has been in the past. Unless something strange happens with strategy, it's putting ourselves in the best possible position to win the race and that's definitely the goal."
Power won his round 1 group and then beat Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden to the top honours in round 2. The pole came to a shootout between the same two drivers, with Power finally edging out Newgarden by 0.3192s.
"This was our worst track in 2012, it honestly was," Newgarden said afterwards. "We were horrible. I think we were two seconds off in 2012 [so] starting up front is a big deal.
"I think it's a very difficult track to understand as a driver," he added. "I think I've just gotten better at that with the team. It's so cool to see our progress coming from 2012 nearly starting last. Now we're in 2014 and we're nearly starting first, it's a really cool deal for me so I'm excited for tomorrow."
Newgarden represents no direct threat to Power's title chances, and the man who does - Power's own team mate Helio Castroneves - ended up a disappointing sixth place on the grid after his fastest lap was deleted after he was deemed to have shortcut the track at turn 9.
"We were having a great day," Castroneves sighed. "It's a shame on the last lap in the Q3, we were having a good one, position to be in the front row. Unfortunately sounded like the wind shifted a little bit and wasn't able to stop that, especially when you don't have the new tyres
"I knew I was so close, I tried to push a little bit harder so I would be able to do something."
Just 38 points separates the pair coming into the last two races of the year, with the finale at Auto Club Speedway, Fontana throwing double points into the mix. For that reason alone, Power knows he needs to make the most of this weekend while Castroneves is equally aware that he has to make sure that Power doesn't get away from him on Sunday.
"At this point it's not much to lose, hopefully we're going to have a great race," said the Brazilian, who like Power is also looking for his first IndyCar Series title, despite his already being a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner. "The strategy, even if we have to take some chances in the strategy, we should do because we got not much to be conservative about at this moment."
Ahead of Castroneves on the grid and crucially between him and the leaders for the start of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma will be Scott Dixon (Ganassi), James Hinchliffe (Andretti Autosport) and Ryan Briscoe (Ganassi).
Ryan Hunter-Reay's fading chances of remaining a part of the title battle going into next week's finale took a hit when he failed to make it through to the final round of qualifying, and he will start from tenth position on the grid and admitted afterwards that he was "a bit disappointed" with his starting position.
"We were going for pole and we gambled on something really big on the setup," he revealed. "We just took a really big, aggressive move on it and the car just wouldn't take it.
"Unfortunately we're at the point now where we can start getting creative with our approach," he added. "Two races left, we basically have to win them both and the Penskes have to DNF so we're going for it.
"To be starting 10th is a shame and we'll have to make it up tomorrow. We'll have to pass cars on the track, pass in pit lane and also have a good strategy to go along with it. Fingers crossed, it's going to be a long race tomorrow, everyone will have their hands full."
The final main player in the championship battle, Simon Pagenaud - who is currently in third place in the standings behind the Penske pair - was having a torrid time of it in Sonoma on Saturday and was frequently seen off-roading the #77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsport car during the earlier practice session, with the team putting it down to a braking issue. The problems put him on the back foot and as a result the Frenchman was eliminated in his first round heat, meaning that he will start from 15th place on the grid for Sunday's penultimate race of the season.
Also frustrated with being eliminated from qualifying early in the same group was the third member of the Penske line-up, Juan Pablo Montoya, who was himself penalised his fastest lap in the session after being deemed to have shortcut the track, an accusation that the former F1 star characterised as "very IndyCar-like."
Although several cars went off-track during qualifying - including Power and Castroneves - there were no significant incidents requiring a full course caution on Saturday.
There is now one final half-hour warm-up practice remaining on Sunday at 10am (6pm local time) before the race itself, which is due to get the green flag at 1.40pm (9.40pm BST). In the UK, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma will be shown live on the digital and cable subscription channel ESPN
See full qualifying results and times from Sonoma Raceway