A week on from finishing first and second in the 2015 Indianapolis 500, Team Penske carried their momentum through to an impressive performance at Detroit Belle Isle with all four cars successfully qualifying in the top five for the first race of this weekend's Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans.
Having missed out on last week's win to one of his team mates by a slender margin, reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power was emphatically redressing the balance and laying down the law on Friday with a new qualifying record of 1:16.0941s (111.178mph) on the 2.35-mile, 14-turn street circuit to claim his 39th IndyCar pole position by 0.0259s over Helio Castroneves.
CLICK: Full qualifying results for race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.
"I had new tyres so I was pushing hard," said Power of his final lap which saw him successfully clinch pole for the third time in 2015. "Then they said Helio and Juan were pretty close. I made a couple of mistakes and the car was pretty loose. But overall it's a fantastic job and a good start to the weekend."
"We used new tires in the second stint and he didn't, so they used new tyres on the third round and we didn't," said Castroneves, explaining the final difference between himself and the pole winner, more than delighted in the circumstances to come away with a front row spot amidst such strong competition from his team mates. "That's how amazing our car was, that's why I'm so happy - being that close with tyres that already had a run on them, it was absolutely amazing.
"I wanted that pole position pretty badly," Castroneves admitted. "So let's go for the race tomorrow. The most important thing is the race. It was a good battle today between me, Will and the rest of Team Penske. Let's go for tomorrow and see what happens."
"It's the pole but it's a long race around here," Power himself pointed out. "Once again it's about battling the team mates around here and we have all year. It's been a great weekend and a really good start. We will try and keep ourselves out of trouble and see what magic we can do tomorrow.
Fresh from his Indy 500 win last week, Juan Pablo Montoya was third fastest in the final round of qualifying in Detroit, 0.1422s off Power's pole time but confident that there was more to come from the #2 car.
"In qualifying we made a couple changes. We made it a little better, but it wasn't as good as we wanted it. Good thing we got a practice tomorrow," he said. "To tell you the truth, you probably hear other people complain about the bumpiness of the track. But it reminds me of '99, 2000, street course, a lot of personality. There's a couple good bumps. Makes it a little tricky. Has a lot of character. Last corner, man, it's fast. Way too fast!
"I think track position is important," he added. "If it's going to be wet, being up front is going to help."
Starting alongside Montoya on the second row of the grid will be AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato, last year's pole winner and the previous holder of the track qualifying record at Detroit. Sato was the highest-placed of the Honda-powered drivers and the only one to make it through to the Firestone Fast Six pole shoot-out round.
"Nice to be squeezing into the top six with the Chevrolet's dominance," confessed the Japanese driver. "Once the car got everything together, seems like we're able to compete with the highest level. The window is very narrow for our package, so it's very difficult to manage. I think here as it is so bumpy, you're never going to get the consistent cornering anyway.
"I had quite a good feeling from last year, so pleased to put everything together," he added. "The #14 car worked well, and the crew. Honda Performance Development, Honda, put everything they can."
Sato was one of the drivers still getting used to changes to the Honda aero kit mandated by the Verizon IndyCar Series this weekend. Officials have told the Japanese manufacturer to remove the outer vertical wall of the front wing assembly end fence, attached flaps and strakes. Teams have also installed a patch where the vertical wall had been attached to the front wing assembly, while Chevrolet has introduced a winglet on the top of each of their sidepods for added downforce to help performance on the street circuit this weekend.
"Obviously we made some changes for the front wing for this Grand Prix for the safety reason," noted Sato. "One nice thing that we don't have to worry about is too much configuration on the front wing. Very simple, up and down front flap. I think it made it okay. Certainly for the race situation, I think we may be better."
The fourth Penske driver Simon Pagenaud - who cored his maiden IndyCar win here in 2013 - will start from fifth place, where he will be joined on the third row by KVSH Racing's Sebastien Bourdais.
"First win in IndyCar is always an important thing," said Pagenaud. "It's always cool to come back here, now driving for Team Penske. It's our home event. Yeah, it's a really cool event for us. Obviously it's great to be showing so well with all four cars.
"I like the dual," he added. "It's fun.It's good for the fans to race twice. It gives us a little bit of a rest, too, to qualify today, race tomorrow."
Ganassi's Scott Dixon narrowly missed out on making it through to the pole shoot-out and will start from seventh place. His team mate Tony Kanaan didn't even progress from the first round after he spun on his final flying lap, and while he kept the #10 car from hitting anything it still cost him the chance of improving his lap time and making it through, meaning that he will start from a disappointing 15th place.
"I'm really frustrated with our qualifying run," he admitted. "We were up front in the first practice session and the car felt really good, and then we turn around in qualifying and don't even make it out of the first round.
"I think we're all just kind of scratching our heads trying to figure out what happened between this morning's session and this afternoon's qualifying rounds," he added, musing that brief showers that passed over the circuit between sessions had affected track conditions in an unexpected way. "We definitely have some work to do tonight with the car and thinking about the best strategy for tomorrow, but I have complete confidence in the team to make sure we're ready to go tomorrow afternoon."
A number of drivers brushed the wall in turn 13 during the three rounds of qualifying including rookie Ganassi driver Sage Karam and this weekend's Dale Coyne Racing pair Tristan Vautier and Rodolfo Gonzalez. However the most serous incident of the afternoon was in the second group of round 1 in which Josef Newgarden smacked the rear end of the #67 hard into the same wall, doing some serious damage to the back end of the car and ensuring that the group 2 session ended early under a red flag while the debris was cleared up.
"I just hit the wall," Newgarden acknowledged after being checked over in the in-field care centre. "It's one of those street course errors that you can make. Obviously the car was good. I hate to do that to the team when we had a quick car. It's a shame for today, hopefully we can get it patched up real quick and get the CFH car back on track as good as it was.
"We will be all right for tomorrow," he added. "We had a strong car and the team's solid. We just have to do a better job of keeping it off the walls!" Newgarden had his two fastest laps of the session deleted for triggering a red flag and will start from 18th place for Saturday's race.
The early end thwarted Ryan Hunter-Reay's hopes of progressing, leaving him lining up in 16th place on the grid much to his obvious annoyance.
"We had it. We were in [a position to advance]," he insisted. "We made some good progress working with our team mate Marco on the set up and we finally found something. We made some good progress with the DHL Honda, it made the car good. We were on a fast lap and set to advance when the red flag came out for Newgarden and it was taken away. It's just frustrating, kind of the way it's been going for us, even when we do make some positive gains there's a setback."
The drivers will now get one further half-hour warm-up practice on Saturday morning at 8.55am ET (1.55pm BST) before the first race of the weekend which is scheduled to start at 3.50pm ET (8.50pm BST).
Sunday sees a second qualifying scheduled for 11.25am ET (4.25pm BST). In this case, cars will be split into two groups each of which will have 12 minutes to set their best lap, which will decide their starting positions. Race 2 again gets underway at 3.50pm ET (8.50pm BST) later in the day.
See full qualifying results for race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.