Will Power was the first man on track on Friday afternoon for qualifying for this weekend's Firestone 600 night race, and he set a time that could not be improved upon by any of the 22 drivers who followed.
"I drew number one obviously this morning in the drivers meeting [and] I was a little worried about the conditions," he admitted. "[But] it kind of stayed consistent over the whole run of qualifying. I was really happy to get pole honestly. I felt if I could be in the top five, I'd be happy. Starting first, really happy about that."
CLICK: Full qualifying times from Texas Motor Speedway
Using the single car time trial qualifying format for superspeedway races, Power set a two-lap average speed of 218.519mph (47.9410s) to claim pole position for the third consecutive year at Texas Motor Speedway. His qualifying effort was slightly slower than last year's which clocked in at 218.896mph (47.8584s) and is significantly slower than the all-time one-lap qualifying track record of 222.864mph (23.5031s) set by Gil de Ferran in 2003.
Even so, Power's time was still good enough to secure him his fourth Verizon IndyCar Series pole of 2015 and his eighth front-row start in nine races so far this season. It's his 40th career pole in the US open wheel series, putting him into a tie with Rick Mears for fifth on the all-time pole starts. Power previously won at Texas in 2011 when the race was split into two separate-yet-equal doubleheader events.
Second place went to Power's Penske team mate Simon Pagenaud, who also picked up the consolation prize of setting the fastest single lap of the session with a speed of 218.744mph. However his second lap was slower than Power's and as a result his two-lap average clocked in at 218.441mph (47.9580s) to put him just 0.0170s slower overall on the 1.455-mile oval.
"Yeah, we dropped a bit on the second lap, but hats off to the Team Penske boys. They're giving us fantastic cars. It makes our lives super easy as a driver," said the Frenchman. "The car is really nice actually. It's a nice carry over from Indy. Just missed it by a little bit, right? I tried to push it as hard as I could."
Behind Power and Pagenaud, the third Penske car of Helio Castroneves will start from third place. It looked as though the squad was on course for a complete sweep of the front two rows, when the final run of the session saw Carlos Munoz succeed in ousting Montoya from fourth place and secure fourth place on the grid for Andretti Autosport in the #26 car.
"I think it was a good run, you know," said Munoz, mastering the art of the understatement. "Going out for qualifying, we thought Chevy would be better than us, all the Chevys, you know, but it seems like only the Penskes were the quick ones. We were faster than the other guys. But just qualifying for the race, hopefully with more aero, we can put more for the Honda tomorrow.
"We will see how it goes," he said cautiously when asked about his prospects for the race itself. "We are going to see where we are really. For sure, qualifying is not really important here, but it's important because it's hard to pass on this track. Cleaner air, the tyres work less. We will see tomorrow. It's a long race."
Munoz' two-lap average of 217.831mph (48.0923s) was 0.1513s slower than Power's pole lap, but made the 23-year-old Colombian the fastest driver of a Honda-powered car in the session. The only other Honda car in the top ten was the #15 Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing car which managed to clinch sixth place and put Graham Rahal alongside Montoya on the third row of the grid for Saturday night's 248-lap, 360.84-mile race under the floodlights.
"Starting up towards the front with these boys is exactly where we need to be," said Rahal. "For qualifying, the car was pretty loose. We ran more downforce and more drag than some people. Here it is a fine balance: it's not just about taking off downforce and drag anymore. I'm just happy to have this car up there. I'm proud of this team. These guys have very worked hard."
The rest of the top ten was made up entirely of Ganassi drivers, with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan on row four followed by their junior counterparts Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam on row five.
"This was my first time here at Texas Motor Speedway so this morning was just about getting comfortable with a higher downforce level compared to my team mates," said Karam. "I really like that qualifying format. We trimmed out a lot compared to this morning, but I am still running a bit more downforce than my team mates so that's why my speed was a little low."
After impressing in the sole pre-qualifying practice session earlier in the day, AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato lumped to a slightly disappointing 13th place putting him just ahead of a brace of CFH Racing cars, Josef Newgarden securing 14th place on the grid ahead of owner/driver Ed Carpenter in 15th. Carpenter won the 2014 race but has so far been struggling to find the same sort of pace at Texas this year.
"It's not a speed problem for us, we know how to make the cars go fast," explained Carpenter. "However, it's hard to do that when the car does not handle well as well as we know it can. We have to figure out how to make this new car work with this new package. We haven't done a good enough job of that up to this point, but we will keep working on it."
Tristan Vautier will line-up alongside Carpenter in 16th place when he starts his fourth race of 2015 for Dale Coyne Racing, having stepped in to the team at the last minute at Indianapolis after regular driver Carlos Huertas was ruled out with an inner ear condition. Vautier is joined this weekend by British driver Pippa Mann, who will be making her second start of the year with the team from 22nd place.
"I was hoping we would have a little more speed, to be honest, and the car felt a little bit better than P16," shrugged Vautier. "I was flat across the line and that is the speed you got. It is OK; we will just focus on the race. There will be a lot of things happening in the race and hopefully we will have a good package for tomorrow."
Ryan Briscoe will line-up in 19th place on the grid in his second stint standing in for the injured James Hinchcliffe in the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport car, while Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified in 21st place in the rebuilt #28 Andretti Autosport entry after his practice crash earlier in the day.
"I think strategy will be huge in the race, pitting early to get fuel and tyres," suggested Briscoe. "It could mix it up quite a bit as who we expect to be at the front based off last year's results.
"It's going to be hard to pass when the tyres get old, but the window of downforce we've been running this year is larger than what we had last year so I think you'll see more variations in downforce levels, which could mix it up even more."
Starting from the back of the grid will be GP2 graduate Stefano Coletti in the #4 KV Racing Technology car, and the Monegasque driver admitted that he was still finding his feet when it came to dealing with speedway racing.
"It was the first time for me on a high banked oval," he pointed out. "To be honest any ovals are new to me. Unfortunately in practice this morning we had a problem with the car, which meant I lost about 25 minutes of the session and on a track like this you need as much track time as possible especially when you only have one 75 minutes session before qualifying.
"It was my first time with a half way trim for qualifying as we didn't have enough time to be fully trimmed out and it was okay, but we could have done more. We will work on our race set-up this evening, it will be a little easier with cooler track temps and luckily oval races are long so it wont matter quite so much where we start.
At the other end of the grid, winning pole position gets Will Power off to the best start that he could hope for at this stage, but also knows all too well that the real battle is yet to come on Saturday night.
"The race, it's going to be interesting," he said. "You know, you got all this stuff you can put on to add downforce if you want, but it's quite draggy so you lose a bit of speed. It's going to be about finding the right compromise for speed loss versus grip.
He and the other drivers will now have only one more half-hour practice on Friday evening to work on their race set-up.
"I guess we'll try some things tonight and see how it all stacks up," Power said. "I think you'll see a few different variations of what people bolt on as far as body kits go for the race."
See full qualifying times from Texas Motor Speedway