Josef Newgarden continued to make himself the master of the Milwaukee Mile this weekend, as the CFH Racing driver took pole position for the Milwaukee IndyFest with a terrific two-lap qualifying effort of 42.9320s (170.223mph) to give him the top spot by 0.0346s over his closest challenger.
CLICK: Full qualifying times from the Milwaukee Mile
It's the first time in 63 Verizon IndyCar Series races that Newgarden has managed to successfully clinch pole, and he is the sixth different pole winner of 2015 so far in 12 races of the season to date. Earlier this season Newgarden also claimed his first series win with victory at Barber Motorsports Park, which he followed up with an encore success at Toronto in June.
"We've had more success on road and street courses, so to get a pole on an oval is a feather in our cap and a great reward for our hard work," said Newgarden as he celebrated winning the Verizon P1 Award.
As is standard for series events at ovals, qualifying had consisted of single car time-trials posting two flying laps, with the combined time and average lap speed setting each competitor's starting grid position. Newgarden's final speed was significantly faster than the one recorded by last year's pole sitter Will Power, who posted a qualifying time of 43.1757s (169.262mph).
However, the 24-year-old from Tennessee didn't quite manage to break the all-time two-lap qualifying track record of 42.7766s (170.841mph) set by Dario Franchitti in June 2011.
Newgarden's successful acquisition of pole position was not a great surprise given his early practice performance in which he topped both the Saturday and Sunday sessions, very much marking himself out as the man to beat when qualifying got underway at Sunday lunchtime. However the identity of the second-place driver was somewhat more startling.
Currently sitting in for the injured James Hinchcliffe in the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car, Ryan Briscoe had been 11th in first practice and only 20th in the second, meaning that few expected him to be a major factor in qualifying, although wiser heads might have recalled that Briscoe claimed his first series win in 2008 here at Milwaukee and clearly knows his way around the place. Sure enough, the 33-year-old Australian came close to toppling Newgarden from the top spot with his strong qualifying run as he captured the shotgun position for this afternoon's race.
Ganassi's rookie driver Sage Karam almost gave both men a shock when he came out as the last man out on track and got close to ousting one or even both of them. In the end his two-lap time was good enough for third place on the grid, 0.1477s slower than Newgarden had managed. The 20-year-old's previous best starting position had been tenth place, which he achieved at both Texas and Fontana earlier this season.
Karam will be joined on the second row of the grid by his more experienced team mate Tony Kanaan, while the third row will be comprised of Briscoe's SPM team mate James Jakes and by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal. Of the top six cars, there was an equal three-all divide between those powered by Chevrolet engines and those sporting Honda power plants and aero kits.
With Newgarden and Briscoe making up an perhaps unlikely front row, it's the first time in 14 races that Penske haven't had at least one of their four drivers start from either first or second position for a race. The highest-placed Penske runner was championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya who qualified in eighth place, putting him alongside Ganassi's Charlie Kimball on the starting grid.
Last year's pole sitter and race winner Will Power had a disappointing qualifying and will start today's race from 14th position. He needs to stay in touch with Montoya to ensure that his team mate doesn't continue to extend his lead in the championship points, with the Colombian currently owning a 46 point margin over his rivals at the top of the standings after Power crashed out prematurely during the most recent race at Fontana last month.
Power was 0.5738s off Newgarden's pole pace for his two-lap qualifying effort. In total, 19 of the drivers taking part in the session were within one second of Newgarden's aggregate time, with Tristan Vautier (Dale Coyne Racing), Jack Hawksworth (AJ Foyt Racing) and - very surprisingly given the dominance of the #67 at the front - Newgarden's team co-owner Ed Carpenter (CFH Racing) all falling outside that margin.
Pippa Mann had been the first of the 24 drivers to take to the track in the lunchtime qualifying session in the Dale Coyne Racing #18, but she was only able to set what proved to be the slowest time of anyone clocking in at 45.9006s (159.214mph) for her two laps, almost three seconds off Newgarden's pole time.
Penske's Helio Castroneves had been due to be the 14th car out on the track but he missed his qualifying slot after a confusion over the day's scheduling meant that the #3 car didn't take up its place in the line for technical inspection in time 15 minutes before the session started as required by the IndyCar rule book. He will start from the back row of the grid alongside Mann as a result.
There are only a little over three hours between the end of qualifying and the green flag for the start of the ABC Supply Co. Inc. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest, which is scheduled to get underway shortly after 4.30pm (10.30pm BST). The two-hour race will consist of 250 laps, or 253.75 miles.
See full qualifying times from the Milwaukee Mile