Will Power on Pole at St Petersburg

Will Power seems to know his way around the streets of St Petersburg. The reigning Indianapolis 500 winner captured pole position for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg on Saturday, for the eighth time in ten years. It is the 55th career pole for Power, who is now just 12 away from tying Mario Andretti for most all-time.

Power has been incredible at many circuits over the course of his career, but especially here. In addition to the eight poles, he has never started outside of the top six in this event. The Team Penske driver has led 247 laps here. No other active driver has even led 100 total laps. Only two of the 15 St Petersburg races have been won from pole position.

Qualification Results for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg

The Firestone Fast Six was comprised of the top two drivers from each of the “big three” teams. Josef Newgarden will join his teammate on the front row, while Ganassi teammates Felix Rosenqvist and Scott Dixon share Row 2. Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi will start from Row 3 on Sunday. Jack Harvey, Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe, and Graham Rahal round out the top ten starters.

The opening qualifying session got off to a rough start, as Marco Andretti’s Honda stalled exiting pit lane, which drew a red flag almost at the very beginning. Once the track was clear, Santino Ferrucci went into the tire barriers after locking up his front brakes. That caused another red flag, and essentially ended the session. One of those who benefited from that was Rookie Ben Hanley. He and the Dragonspeed team will start 12th tomorrow.

Dixon caught a lucky break in the opening round, as he spun his Honda during his run, but managed to keep it clean. Despite failing to advance by one position during the session, it was later determined that Takuma Sato went off course and caused a local yellow, which forfeited his best lap, thus vaulting Dixon into the next round. It was a really tough break for Sato, who was definitely very fast.

The biggest heartbreak had to be Colton Herta. The Rookie driver with Harding-Steinbrenner racing was third fastest after Round 2, and appeared to be locked into the Fast Six. Unfortunately, he was penalized for qualifying interference, and had to surrender his two best laps by rule. He will start 11th tomorrow, but is clearly one of the fastest cars in the field.

Defending race winner Sebastien Bourdais was one of those troubled by the red flag in the first session, and will start 19th. If Bourdais wins tomorrow, he will become the first driver since 2007 to win three consecutive years at one track. Both Dan Wheldon (Homestead-Miami) and Scott Dixon (Watkins Glen) accomplished it from 2005-2007.

The race distance is 110 laps, which is 198 miles around the 1.8-mile 14-turn street circuit. Robert Wickens won the pole for last year’s race, and Sebastien Bourdais is the defending race winner.

Coverage for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg begins at 12:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.

Photos courtesy of IndyCar

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Driver Quotes

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: “It was a medium start to the weekend. We weren’t bad and we got a top 10, but we weren’t crazy stellar. We definitely found our footing this morning and made the car really good. Everyone really executed today. I’m only disappointed in myself. I didn’t put together the best lap there when it really counted. We did a great job getting into the Firestone Fast Six as a team, so you can’t be dissatisfied. It’s really positive for the whole organization. Team Chevy did a really good job and worked really hard overnight for us to make sure what got what we needed for the No. 2 Hitachi Chevy. Thank you to Chevy for giving us everything we need. It’s hard to not be disappointed when you’re quick and we had a little better tires. We were on the preferred tire and you want to capitalize on them, but I messed up that first lap and booked it on the second. It was close, but wasn’t good enough.”

MATHEUS LEIST: “It’s not the result we wanted in qualifying We will be starting from the back tomorrow, so we have a lot of work to do. Even so, I’m looking forward to the race because it is a place that I like, and I usually drive pretty good. We’ll try to move to the front and have a good result tomorrow.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: “We had a fast car, we just didn’t nail it perfectly on (Firestone alternate tires) reds. I think if we had had the run in Round 1 (qualifying), we would have been able to make some adjustments and be fighting for the Firestone Fast Six. It is what it is. Pretty disappointing the way it played out, but that’s qualifying here. There are red flags, there are guys holding up other guys – not a lot of respect out there in qualifying for each other – but that’s racing. This place has always been pretty good to us. I think if we can play strategy a little bit, we can make some moves in the Arrow car.”

MARCUS ERICSSON: “It was a disappointing qualifying session for us. On the first set of tires, the primaries (Firestone black tires), I had a big lockup on my first timed lap, so that made that whole run pretty compromised because of it. I was struggling with that to get a good reference for the (Firestone alternate tires) reds. Then on the reds, I was on a decent lap, but I brushed the wall quite hard in Turn 9, which sort of bent the car a bit and I couldn’t improve from there. Disappointing to go out straight away in the first round, but it’s still a new day tomorrow and we have a good chance with the Arrow cars.”

SCOTT DIXON: “We couldn’t really find the balance I was looking for today for whatever reason in the PNC Bank car. We had some pretty patchy practice sessions and didn’t get to run the car consistently. Great job by my teammate Felix (Rosenqvist) in his first race weekend here. We still have a little work to do, as I’m getting loose on entry under braking. We got lucky with (Takuma) Sato getting a penalty to advance through, but you take the breaks when you get them and just make the most of it.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST: “I’m pretty happy overall with the result. I’m not even sure yet what exact feedback to give to the team in qualifying, so I didn’t want to change anything on the NTT DATA car. I guess when I get comfortable enough we can have those conversations, which is something to look forward to. We are starting side by side tomorrow as teammates and the golden rule there is to always respect your teammate. Other than that, I just can’t wait to get going tomorrow for the race here at St. Petersburg.”

WILL POWER: “I had a great nap before I qualified. I actually fell asleep, so I felt really fresh. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be on pole because we had used tires. We didn’t have new (tires) like a couple of the other guys so, over the moon man, over the moon to start on pole. I really am happy. It’s about time a pole winner won this race, so I want to stop that trend of the last place guy winning. So, we’ll do our best.  That last run, the car felt really good. I have to say it was a very neat lap and I didn’t really leave anything on the table.”

TONY KANAAN: “I can’t call this qualifying. We got two red flags, so nobody ever put a fast lap in our group. The fastest lap was an out lap at a 1:03 and we were running .59s. It’s a shame, but it was out of our control. We didn’t cause the red flags, but we just didn’t get the lap.”

GRAHAM RAHAL: “In the first round, the United Rentals Honda was really good. I thought that with a couple of minor tweaks, we would be right there. When we went to the second round, unfortunately, we didn’t really get a good out lap, and due to that, the rear tires never came in and it was just an absolute handful. I almost lost it to start my lap, so therefore we just never stood a chance of advancing. It’s a shame because our time in the first round was good enough to advance us to the (Firestone) Fast Six so it’s disappointing to not fulfill that.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: “I’m not quite sure what to say. I didn’t even get a timed lap. I think the SealMaster Honda car is really competitive. It’s just a shame. I feel that we owe it to the fans, sponsors and teams to at least show something that’s representative, but the rules are there for a reason. However, the rules do not provide for something like this where you barely get any green flag time. I feel really bad for everybody. I guess we should have gone out right away, but that is easy to say now. The good news is the Dale Coyne with Vasser-Sullivan team has plenty of sticker (new) tires both the Firestone reds (alternate) and blacks (primary), so I am excited for tomorrow. Obviously, we will be playing the long game again. That’s all you can do from where we’ll start. We’ll give it our best shot. We’ve done it the last two years from there (won from the back of the field), so we know it’s possible.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI: ” That’s definitely not how I wanted to start off the season in qualifying here in St. Petersburg aboard my No. 19 David Yurman Honda. I made a rookie mistake going into Turn 12 and ended up in the tire barrier. I feel bad because it not only ruined my qualifying, but also Sebastien’s (Bourdais). It’s a long race and we’ll do our best to make our way forward. Sebastien has won from the back here before, so we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

ED JONES: “Qualifying was super frustrating. We weren’t the only ones caught out by the red flags, but what hurts the most is that the team did a fantastic job over last night to improve the car. We were sixth this morning and the car felt great. Unfortunately, no one did a push lap, it was only out lap times. It’s disappointing, but as Sebastien (Bourdais) has shown us the last two years, you can start at the back and still win the race.”

SPENCER PIGOT: “We just kind of missed the balance there on the (Firestone alternate) red tires today. Unfortunately, the car wasn’t behaving like it did yesterday in second practice. We’ll go back to see where we can improve and get the car back to how it was. Hopefully, we’ll have a good race tomorrow for Autogeek and have a strong start of the season for Ed Carpenter Racing.”

SIMON PAGENAUD: “I didn’t get to play. It was quite unfortunate. I wasn’t even able to go full speed. We had two red flags in the wrong spot for us. It’s really unfortunate because I felt that the No. 22 Menards Chevy was awesome. We made a huge improvement today and the car was awesome this morning. I’m just a little disappointed I didn’t get to showcase what the team has been working on. Obviously, my teammates are starting one and two and had not what gone down, I would have been right there with them. That’s the only frustrating part, but you can’t dwell on that. That’s outside factors you can’t control. We’re going to regroup and go hard tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL: “The Firestone alternates really have one good lap in them around here and on my best lap I was coming into Turn 10 up on my previous good lap time and came across the No. 88 in about second gear at the apex. I was able to slide by him, but I had to throw that lap out completely. My next lap, which was my best, just wasn’t quite good enough to move into the top six. Honestly, I’m really proud of the Carlin team and the progress we’ve made in 12 months. You know to come back in the No. 23 car this weekend with Novo Nordisk and to qualify in the top 10 is pretty great. I’m just looking forward to the green flag tomorrow to see what we can do with our solid qualifying effort.”

ZACH VEACH: “First off, I’m just happy being here. Thankful for all the fans coming out, but I think we have something to look at. The data didn’t come out just right as far as speed for us. We think that we have a lot better car than we are showing right now, but we have an issue holding us back. We just have to figure out what that is overnight. It is a long race. This is the longest (in both laps at 110 laps and distance at 198 miles) temporary street course we have of the entire year. A lot of laps and a lot of things can happen tomorrow and at the end of the day, I am just happy to be here.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI: “We have been struggling for two days now with some issues on the front of the car. I think (the qualifying result) was really the best we could hope for. It is unfortunate that we were aiming for sixth. At the end of the day, it was good to be able to advance to the Firestone Fast Six and at least give us a good starting spot for tomorrow, and we all know in this race how many things can happen. We will make sure we resolve our issues overnight and have a good car for tomorrow. I think we know what the issue is, but we don’t know quite how to fix it yet. We have a lot of very smart people here at Andretti Autosport, so the 27 NAPA guys will work and figure it out.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: ” We had the fastest lap of qualifying and unfortunately it was in the wrong session. It was in Q1, a 1:00:15, super fast. That was on new (Firestone alternate) reds. In the (Firestone) Fast Six, we had used reds. I think we just beat up our reds too much in the prior sessions – there was no grip in the car in the Fast Six.  We are struggling with some balance stuff right now, but hopefully we can sort that out for tomorrow, but it’s going to be tough. It seems like it is either going to be loose or understeer, we can’t find the middle. But we’re starting from fifth – and we can do something from there.”

TAKUMA SATO: “I’m disappointed with qualifying obviously. We looked good in Practice 3 so we were optimistic about qualifying. I was in the top five in our (qualifying) group. We were moving to Round, but I had a little moment in Turn 4 and went into the escape road, which caused a yellow, so INDYCAR took my fastest lap away. My second fastest was not quick enough to advance in the top six.”

MAX CHILTON: “It was a disappointing day for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet. We had an issue with the clutch in the first session that cost us quite a bit of track time, which you never want to happen in the last practice before qualifying. We aren’t starting where we want tomorrow, but now we have an opportunity to come from the back with an alternate strategy and get the result we know we can get.”

JACK HARVEY: ” We made some changes before the session, so it was a bit of stepping into the unknown for qualifying honestly. I didn’t know what we were going to have. But the MSR guys stuck with it, and it was great to have that pace in qualifying. The Drive Pink Shasta is set up here at the track, and we’ve got a lot of people here from AutoNation so it is great to show this kind of potential with our pink car. Now I’m just looking forward to the race tomorrow.”

BEN HANLEY:  “We had to work through quite a few technical problems in practice, so it was satisfying to come out of our first NTT IndyCar Series qualifying with a good result. Qualifying was our first chance to run (Firestone alternate) red tires, so we started on a set, and with the interruptions, it worked in our favor. Getting through to Q2 was a nice reward for all the crew’s hard work, and it also gave us an extra 10 minutes to learn about the car. We’ll try to learn some more in the morning warmup and then it’s exam time in the race.”

COLTON HERTA: “Shoulda, coulda, woulda. We had the time to get into the Firestone Fast Six, but we didn’t quite make it. We didn’t manage traffic right and we got caught for blocking, so it was a rough day. My last lap would have put us in the third position, and I think we had even more time to give. The Harding Steinbrenner Racing guys and I will push our Latitude Vacation Club No. 88 car tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI: “It was unfortunate today, the U.S. Concrete car is fast, we just didn’t get a chance. It ruined the show for the fans, too. There should have never been a red (flag). I was sitting on pit lane, I wasn’t blocking anyone but that’s the way the cards fell today. I will be driving and seeing red tomorrow. That’s the plan. So far we have had the pace and possibly had the pace to do a lap.”

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