The starting grid for Sunday's final Indy Japan race will make for troubling reading for championship leader Dario Franchitti.
Not only is Franchitti starting from ninth place on the grid following a disappointing second round of qualifying in which he never quite seemed to have that crucial last bit of speed for top six pace, but his two main rivals in the points - Ganassi team mate Scott Dixon and Penske's Will Power - locked out the front row and will start side-by-side in tomorrow's race.
The pole position makes Dixon the only IndyCar driver to be able to claim to have taken the top spot on both the oval and road course circuits in Motegi. He claimed pole on the speedway in 2009 - and went on to win the race as well.
Graham Rahal was impressive in qualifying and set the third-fastest time in the Firestone Fast Six pole shoot-out to start alongside Ryan Briscoe, while James Hinchcliffe continues a strong run of performances and claimed fifth place on the grid alongside the third Penske car, the #3 of Helio Castoeneves.
1. #9 Scott Dixon 109.143mph 1m 38.3918s Round 3/Firestone Fast Six
2. #12 Will Power 109.113mph 1m 38.4194s Round 3/Firestone Fast Six
3. #38 Graham Rahal 108.919mph 1m 38.5946s Round 3/Firestone Fast Six
4. #6 Ryan Briscoe 108.793mph 1m 38.7082s Round 3/Firestone Fast Six
5. #06 James Hinchcliffe 108.558mph 1m 38.9226s Round 3/Firestone Fast Six
6. #3 Helio Castroneves 108.501mph 1m 38.9743s Round 3/Firestone Fast Six
7. #83 Charlie Kimball 108.702mph 1m 38.7911s Round 2/Top 12
8. #18 James Jakes 108.671mph 1m 38.8198s Round 2/Top 12
9. #10 Dario Franchitti 108.611mph 1m 38.8738s Round 2/Top 12
10. #26 Marco Andretti 108.576mph 1m 38.9058s Round 2/Top 12
11. #5 Takuma Sato 108.561mph 1m 38.9194s Round 2/Top 12
12. #34 Joao Paulo de Oliveira 108.472mph 1m 39.0009s Round 2/Top 12
13. #59 EJ Viso 108.521mph 1m 38.9562s Round 1/Group 1
14. #19 Sebastien Bourdais 108.748mph 1m 38.7495s Round 1/Group 2
15. #77 Alex Tagliani 108.428mph 1m 39.0409s Round 1/Group 1
16. #2 Oriol Servia 108.723mph 1m 38.7719s Round 1/Group 2
17. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 108.391mph 1m 39.0750s Round 1/Group 1
18. #22 Giorgio Pantano 108.628mph 1m 38.8588s Round 1/Group 2
19. #4 JR Hildebrand 108.183mph 1m 39.2650s Round 1/Group 1
20. #27 Mike Conway 108.542mph 1m 38.9371s Round 1/Group 2
21. #24 Ana Beatriz 107.958mph 1m 39.4724s Round 1/Group 1
22. #17 Hideki Mutoh 108.538mph 1m 38.9407s Round 1/Group 2
23. #7 Danica Patrick 107.951mph 1m 39.4789s Round 1/Group 1
24. #14 Vitor Meira 108.116mph 1m 39.3269s Round 1/Group 2
25. #82 Tony Kanaan 107.927mph 1m 39.5004s Round 1/Group 1
26. #78 Simona de Silvestro 108.097mph 1m 39.3440s Round 1/Group 2
Full qualifying times
Qualifying consisted of half the field running in the 15 minute Group 1 and the other half in Group 2, with the top six from each group progressing to the ten minute Top 12 session, and the top six then going through to the shoot-out Firestone Fast Six round.
Group 1 consisted of Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Alex Tagliani, Joao Paulo de Oliveira, Takuma Sato, JR Hildebrand, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, EJ Viso, Charlie Kimball, Graham Rahal, Danica Patrick and Ana Beatriz in Group 1.
Group 2 comprised Will Power, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Dario Franchitti, Sebastien Bourdais, Hideki Mutoh, James Jakes, Scott Dixon, Vitor Meira, Oriol Servia, Giorgio Pantano, Mike Conway and Simona de Silvestro.
Round 1: Group 1 - 15 minutes
Ana Beatriz, JR Hildebrand and Danica Patrick went out straight away to put in early banker laps, with Hildebrand's 1:39.5978 and Beatriz's 1:39.5408 immediately their fastest of the weekend so far on the red-walled soft tyres. The other drivers held back until the ten minute mark, and wasn't until the five minute mark that the top contenders set their serious times, with Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves trading the top spot with the fastest laps seen so far in the weekend, ahead of Ryan Briscoe and an impressive Joao Paulo de Oliveira who progressed to Round 2 in his first IndyCar qualifying session. Charlie Kimball and local hero Takuma Sato also progressed, but there were surprise exits for Ryan Hunter-Reay, JR Hildebrand, Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan, none of whom showed anything like the requisite speed in the session.
1. #38 Graham Rahal 109.051mph 1m 38.4751s after 5 laps
2. #3 Helio Castroneves 108.905mph 1m 38.6071s + 0.1320s after 5 laps
3. #6 Ryan Briscoe 108.895mph 1m 38.6158s + 0.1407s after 4 laps
4. #34 Joao Paulo de Oliveira 108.630mph 1m 38.8564s + 0.3813s after 5 laps
5. #83 Charlie Kimball 108.582mph 1m 38.9000s + 0.4249s after 5 laps
6. #5 Takuma Sato 108.551mph 1m 38.9283s + 0.4532s after 5 laps
7. #59 EJ Viso 108.521mph 1m 38.9562s + 0.4811s after 6 laps
8. #77 Alex Tagliani 108.428mph 1m 39.0409s + 0.5658s after 4 laps
9. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 108.391mph 1m 39.0750s + 0.5999s after 6 laps
10. #4 JR Hildebrand 108.183mph 1m 39.2650s + 0.7899s after 6 laps
11. #24 Ana Beatriz 107.958mph 1m 39.4724s + 0.9973s after 6 laps
12. #7 Danica Patrick 107.951mph 1m 39.4789s + 1.0038s after 6 laps
13. #82 Tony Kanaan 107.927mph 1m 39.5004s + 1.0253s after 6 laps
Round 1: Group 2 - 15 minutes
There was a staggeringly long pause before even a single engine was fired up in pit lane for group 2, with Mike Conway and Vitor Meira finally leading the charge out on track after more than five minutes of the session spent in an eerie quiet. Conway set a time of 1:39.1572s before running off at turn 1, but the Ganassi duo of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti soon went faster, and Will Power slotted in between them in second place. Dixon eventually felt comfortable enough with his time of 1:38.1783s to come in and spent the final moments in pit road, while Dario Franchitti was obliged to stay out to put in a late 1:38.3022s lap to reclaim third after being pushed out by the likes of James Hinchcliffe, and James Jakes. Marco Andretti just pushed Sebastien Bourdais out of the top six in the final seconds despite running off the track, but Oriol Servia - second fastest man in the afternoon practice - was a surprise name among those unable to progress.
1. #9 Scott Dixon 109.381mph 1m 38.1783s after 3 laps
2. #12 Will Power 109.322mph 1m 38.2308s + 0.0525s after 4 laps
3. #10 Dario Franchitti 109.243mph 1m 38.3022s + 0.1239s after 5 laps
4. #06 James Hinchcliffe 108.985mph 1m 38.5346s + 0.3563s after 4 laps
5. #18 James Jakes 108.790mph 1m 38.7115s + 0.5332s after 6 laps
6. #26 Marco Andretti 108.774mph 1m 38.7256s + 0.5473s after 6 laps
7. #19 Sebastien Bourdais 108.748mph 1m 38.7495s + 0.5712s after 5 laps
8. #2 Oriol Servia 108.723mph 1m 38.7719s + 0.5936s after 4 laps
9. #22 Giorgio Pantano 108.628mph 1m 38.8588s + 0.6805s after 5 laps
10. #27 Mike Conway 108.542mph 1m 38.9371s + 0.7588s after 6 laps
11. #17 Hideki Mutoh 108.538mph 1m 38.9407s + 0.7624s after 4 laps
12. #14 Vitor Meira 108.116mph 1m 39.3269s + 1.1486s after 5 laps
13. #78 Simona de Silvestro 108.097mph 1m 39.3440s + 1.1657s after 6 laps
Round 2: Top 12 - 10 minutes
James Jakes was first man out after only a short delay at the start of the ten-minute round 2 session, right ahead of Dario Franchitti who slammed in a 1:39.2678s which was immediately bested by Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato, Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal before Will Power then jumped to the top with a 1:38.4159 followed by Ryan Briscoe. Times really started to tumble on successive runs, with Rahal, Hinchcliffe and Dixon back on top next time around. Franchitti appeared less comfortable, dropping to the bottom of the top 12 and then only improving to eighth with his next flying lap leaving him too much to do in the final two minutes, meaning he was knocked out and failed to make it through to the pole shootout. Castroneves also had to scramble to get into the top six, just pipping Charlie Kimball for sixth by 0.0251s.
1. #38 Graham Rahal 109.363mph 1m 38.1944s after 5 laps
2. #12 Will Power 109.310mph 1m 38.2417s + 0.0473s after 4 laps
3. #06 James Hinchcliffe 109.286mph 1m 38.2636s + 0.0692s after 4 laps
4. #9 Scott Dixon 109.216mph 1m 38.3261s + 0.1317s after 5 laps
5. #6 Ryan Briscoe 109.203mph 1m 38.3381s + 0.1437s after 4 laps
6. #3 Helio Castroneves 108.730mph 1m 38.7660s + 0.5716s after 5 laps
7. #83 Charlie Kimball 108.702mph 1m 38.7911s + 0.5967s after 5 laps
8. #18 James Jakes 108.671mph 1m 38.8198s + 0.6254s after 5 laps
9. #10 Dario Franchitti 108.611mph 1m 38.8738s + 0.6794s after 5 laps
10. #26 Marco Andretti 108.576mph 1m 38.9058s + 0.7114s after 4 laps
11. #5 Takuma Sato 108.561mph 1m 38.9194s + 0.7250s after 4 laps
12. #34 Joao Paulo de Oliveira 108.472mph 1m 39.0009s + 0.8065s after 5 laps
Round 3: Firestone Fast 6 - 10 minutes
Despite being a short ten minute session, round 3 saw a surprising lack of initial activity before Helio Castroneves came out with two minutes already elapsed, after which the remaining five drivers grudgingly dribbled out in pursuit. Castroneves' 1:39.3093s set the early target, which was eventually bested with four minutes to go by Graham Rahal's 1:38.6055s riposte. Times fell further next time around with Rahal staying ahead of Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Briscoe and Castroneves, while Penske's Will Power was initially strangely off the pace as if pursuing a different strategy on looking after his tyres and building up heat before popping up into second on his penultimate run with a lap of 1:38.4194s. That set up a one lap showdown for pole position: Dixon put in a final laptime of 1:38.3918s, and it was too good for Power who couldn't improve and had to settle for an uncharacteristic second place as Dixon won the Peak Performance Award for pole position.
1. #9 Scott Dixon 109.143mph 1m 38.3918s after 5 laps
2. #12 Will Power 109.113mph 1m 38.4194s + 0.0276s after 4 laps
3. #38 Graham Rahal 108.919mph 1m 38.5946s + 0.2028s after 4 laps
4. #6 Ryan Briscoe 108.793mph 1m 38.7082s + 0.3164s after 3 laps
5. #06 James Hinchcliffe 108.558mph 1m 38.9226s + 0.5308s after 4 laps
6. #3 Helio Castroneves 108.501mph 1m 38.9743s + 0.5825s after 6 laps