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IndyCar: Power leads Penske 1-2-3-4 grid sweep at St Pete

After twice narrowly missing out on a top four sweep in practice, Team Penske finally pulled it off in qualifying to lock out the front two rows on the grid.
As emphatic statements of intent go, clinching all four positions on the starting grid for Sunday's Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg is about as good as it can possibly get for Team Penske. In fact, one might be forgiven referring to it as a rout.

Will Power was fastest in every group in which he participated, posting his best time of the day in the second of the three rounds of qualifying when he managed to set an unbeatable target lap of 106.841mph (1:00.6509s) that was a new track record on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit, beating the 12-year-old record of 1:00.928s previously held by Sebastien Bourdais.

Not even Power's eventual pole lap of 106.767mph (1:00.6931s) could quite manage to top that in the third round Firestone Fast Six pole shoot-out, which saw Power finish 0.0321s ahead of the newest of his Penske team mates, Simon Pagenaud. The Frenchman will duly line-up alongside Power on the front row for the first race of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship on Sunday.

Full qualifying results from St Petersburg

The remaining two members of the Penske squad were close behind the lead pair, with Helio Castroneves just holding off Juan Pablo Montoya for third place as all four teammates secured starting grid positions on the front two rows.

"It was tight. Full credit to the team. I'm stoked to get pole," said Power, who was celebrating his 37th IndyCar Series pole. "It just shows the work we've done over the winter. It's four good drivers that will battle it out."

Even though he'd made it look easy, Power admitted that it had been tense in the final minutes as to which of the Penske quartet would come out on top in what amounted to their own private battle and that he'd missed out on what was supposed to be his final flying lap attempt.

"I thought we had an extra lap. We were trying to be the last car, so we left a little late and got the chequered flag," he explained. "But full credit to the team and Verizon. I'm stoked to get pole, I really am."

"It's very fast," said Pagenaud after locking up second place in his first outing with the team after switching from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports over the winter off-season. "I'm super happy to be honest. It's incredible to start this way with Team Penske.

"We have a lot of pace. The car is fantastic. Thanks to everyone for searching and developing so much," he said. "The #22 crew is brand new and is doing a great job. It's fantastic to be a part of the Penske family. I'm really proud. Today was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed qualifying."

The only non-Penske drivers to make it through to the final round of qualifying were Bourdais and last year's pole winner Takuma Sato. The Japanese driver was the only Honda driver in the pole-shootout and managed to clinch fifth place on the grid for AJ Foyt Racing just ahead of the KV Racing Technology driver.

"I was a really proud of the whole team," said Bourdais. "The car was really good and we had a solid effort. It's a shame about that last lap, which was going to determine whether we were in the top-three or not. I tried a bit harder and for some reason I probably just braked in a different place and braked deeper and might have found the one bump. I bottomed out and locked the right front and that was that.

"I was so committed," he added. "If I had tried to make it I would have stuffed it. I knew I had to find a good chunk of time as I was conservative the last lap, but unfortunately it just didn't work out. We were in the Firestone Fast Six, which is a good start to the season. I was on pole the first year in 2003, but since then I have never managed to make it out of the first round, so I made an improvement today!"

Bourdais narrowly beat Ganassi's Tony Kanaan into the final six by less than one tenth. Also not able to progress from the second round were Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay, Kanaan's team mate Scott Dixon, CFH Racing's Josef Newgarden and two further Andretti entries, those of Simona de Silvestro and Marco Andretti.

Bourdais' team mate, Stefano Coletti, had a less successful time of it and was eliminated in the first round of his first IndyCar qualifying session putting him in 17th place on the grid, but the GP2 veteran was nonetheless the highest placed rookie.

"It was a disappointing qualifying for my first IndyCar race," he admitted. "I have been struggling with the car all weekend. The things we thought we learned at the Sebring test earlier in the week, we found out did not work here. Despite the limited track time we have had, I was able to learn the track pretty quick and its a lot of fun.

"We will work on the car tonight and make some changes and hopefully, tomorrow I will have a good race car and have a good result for my first Verizon Indycar Series race," he said.

Fellow GP2 graduate Luca Filippi will start immediately behind Coletti in 19th place on Sunday and seemed slightly happier than the Monegasque driver about the outcome in his first qualifying session at CFH Racing.

"The lap times were very close and I felt good in the car, especially the last few laps," said Filippi. "I thought we were doing quite well, but actually the times were so tight I missed the first cut and did not make it to Round 2.

"We ran the first few laps on used tyres and I didn't have a good read on the condition," he continued. "Tomorrow is a long race, we'll think about the strategy and try to get the best out of it. I think we will be strong for the longer run."

Filippi was the lowest-placed of the Chevrolet cars, but still ahead of five Honda entries. English drivers James Jakes (SPM) and Jack Hawksworth (AJ Foyt Racing) both had disappointing afternoons especially given the latter's sixth place in Friday's sole practice session which had seemed to promise so much more.

Rookie Gabby Chaves will start from 20th on the grid in his first race for Bryan Herta Autosport, while the back row will be an all-Dale Coyne Racing affair with Carlos Huertas set to start alongside his new team mate Francesco Dracone. Although Dracone will nominally start in 23rd place ahead of Huertas, the Italian's time was worryingly far off the pace, and was over two seconds slower than everyone else in qualifying.

"It was a pretty hard day," Dracone conceded. "Having the red tyres for the first time was challenging for me, having never used them. The track is getting faster and faster. The balance seemed to get better on the red tyres so I am looking forward to more laps on those.

"Tomorrow we are going to go for a good pace and try to avoid mistakes," he continued. "It has been a challenge for me all weekend because I'm driving a new car for the first time on a circuit I have never driven. All of the drivers here in Florida are at a very high level."

The 24 drivers will now have one more 30-minute session on Sunday morning for warm-up and last-minute refinements to their cars ahead of the race itself which is due to take the green flag shortly after 3.30pm local time (8.30pm BST). In the UK, the race is scheduled to be shown live on ESPN.

Full qualifying results from St Petersburg

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Will Power celebrates winning pole position at St Petersburg - Saturday March 28 2015. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Will Power celebrates winning pole position at St Petersburg - Saturday March 28 2015. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Will Power celebrates winning pole position at St Petersburg - Saturday March 28 2015. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) celebrates winning the 2016 IndyCar title with victory at Sonoma   [pic credit: Chris Owens]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Will Power - Team Penske
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Simon Penske - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar media/Bret Kelley]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Joe Skibinski]
Luca Filippi   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Penske  [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [image credit: IndyCar Media/Bret Kelley]
Sebastian Bourdais (KVSH Racing) celebrates in Detroit   [image creid: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Sebastian Bourdais - KVSH Racing   [image credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske

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