Will Power had to go to record-setting lengths to secure pole position for the final race of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series, but every time it looked like he might be ousted from provisional pole position the Penske driver was able to respond with ever-faster laps in perfect conditions at the 2.385-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway road course.
On a day that saw the track qualifying record reset six times, Power's final lap of the day clocked in at 1:16.2597s (112.589mph) to put him 0.1367s ahead of CFH Racing's Josef Newgarden who will start alongside him on the front row for Sunday afternoon's GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
CLICK: Full qualifying results for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
"Obviously I love the area and love the track," beamed Power. "It's a very technical track and you have to be very committed when it comes to qualifying.
"My favourite session of the whole weekend is the qualifying," he revealed. "You get to get the absolute maximum out of the car and ring its neck. I enjoyed it a whole lot.
"Obviously the race will be a fairly different story as there are a lot of points on the table tomorrow. We really need to be careful on how we execute this because we need to win."
It's Power's sixth pole of the season, the first time that any driver has taken that many in a single year since Scott Dixon dominated qualifying in 2008. In total, Power has now started from pole 42 times in his US open wheel racing career. He's started from the pole at Sonoma five times in the past six years, and is a three-time winner here.
The first group saw Will Power's 2014 track qualifying record fall at the first go with Penske's Simon Pagenaud setting a new milestone time of 1:16.8419s (111.736mph) in part thanks to the new primary and alternate Firestone Racing tyres being used for the first time this weekend that feature softer compounds to improve grip levels around the circuit.
As well as Tony Kanaan (Ganassi), Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport) and Charlie Kimball (Ganassi), also progressing from the first group were championship contenders Graham Rahal and Juan Pablo Montoya. In the latter's case it was a very close run thing, with Montoya escaping elimination by just 0.0966s. His Penske team mate Helio Castroneves wasn't so lucky and finished eighth fastest in the group meaning that he will line up in 15th place on the grid for Sunday's race: it's the first time that Castroneves has missed out on making the Firestone Fast 6 at Sonoma.
In the second group, Pagenaud's fledgling new track record soon fell to Will Power's latest effort of 1:16.5702s (112.132mph) putting him almost three hundredths of a second clear of CFH Racing's Josef Newgarden. With Scott Dixon in third for Ganassi it meant that all three of the championship contenders in this group made it safely through, along with Sebastian Saavedra (Ganassi) and Andretti Autosport pair Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz. Just missing out on progressing was Schmidt Peterson Motorsport's Mikhail Aleshin in his first IndyCar qualifying effort in over a year, but he will still start from a solid 14th place in the race.
After a delay to clean up oil spilt on the track, round two got underway with the 12 remaining qualifiers taking to the track once more. Yet again the track record fell, with first Ryan Hunter-Reay and then Will Power setting impressive new milestone laps, Power eventually topping the group with a time of 1:16.5571s (112.152mph) putting him just 0.0049s ahead of Hunter-Reay. Also progressing were Pagenaud, Newgarden and Rahal, while the final transfer spot went to Montoya who narrowly squeaked in to the top six by just 0.0038s. However, one more championship contender fell by the wayside at this point with Dixon only managing to secure ninth place on the grid for Sunday.
The Firestone Fast Six round saw yet another short-lived track qualifying record when Hunter-Reay posted a lap of 1:16.5254s, but this was soon bettered by Newgarden recording a final effort of 1:16.3964s. In the last seconds of the session, Power was able to top even that with his final run of to set the final new record of the day and the one that will now stand for the next 12 months at least.
"I was just aware of the times that I had to beat and I didn't know what the track record was," Power described of the final minutes of qualifying. "I just knew what Josef's time was and needed to beat that.
"Our strategy was just to do two runs and just use reds [soft option tyres], the sets that we used in the previous rounds. We didn't think anyone would put blacks [harder prime tyres] on but he did and he went quicker, so we had no choice at the very end but to put them on. He kind of showed us the way. If he had put them on at the end, I have a feeling he would have got the pole."
Behind Power and Newgarden on the front row of the grid, Hunter-Reay will start alongside Pagenaud on row 2 meaning that the third row will consist of the two main championship contenders Montoya and Rahal starting side-by-side in the race that will decide the 2015 Verizon IndyCar title.
Drivers will now get one further half-hour warm-up session on Sunday morning at 10am (6pm BST) to dial their cars in for the event proper, with the 85-lap, 202.7-mile race itself getting the green flag just after 2pm (10pm BST).
See full qualifying times and starting grid for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma