ST. PETERSBURG, FL (March 24, 2012) - Will Power says claiming the pole for the eighth Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is a "good start," which he hopes six months down the road will lead to a championship finish.
Power set a circuit-qualifying record of 1 minute, 1.3721 seconds in winning the pole for the IZOD IndyCar Series' season-opening race March 25 (12:30 p.m. ET on ABC).
Power has started from the pole in the race on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit for three consecutive years. He won in 2010 and was runner-up to Dario Franchitti in 2011.
“I’m very happy to get the first pole for Chevy as they return to the series,” said Power, the series championship runner-up the past two seasons who posted the 25th pole start of his Indy car career. “We worked hard over the winter. Roger (Penske) has been pretty keen on winning this championship after the last couple of years.
“It’s only the beginning of the weekend. We need to have a good strategy for the race and see what comes.”
Ryan Briscoe will start alongside his Team Penske teammate on the front row, while Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe will occupy Row 2. It's the best start in the race for all three (Hinchcliffe didn't compete in 2011).
"It’s certainly fun with all the engines in the new car, all the manufacturers going head to head so St. Pete always puts on a good show and we’re really happy to be here," Hunter-Reay said. We’re proud of Chevy being in the top five. It’s a good way to start the season in the beginning to a long trek. Tomorrow’s the only real day that counts, and who knows what to expect, so should be exciting for the fans."
Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Firestone Fast Six. But because Pagenaud's Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports team made an unauthorized Honda engine change in practice a day earlier, he is being penalized 10 spots on the starting grid.
Scott Dixon, who was 0.0022 of a second out of qualifying for the Firestone Fast Six, will join Castroneves on the third row.
“Something didn't feel right, and I shut it down to be on the safe side. It is what it is, and that's racing,” Pagenaud said. “The HP car is nice to drive around this street circuit of St. Pete. I love street circuits; they provide you so much adrenaline rush. I still think we'll be good."
Pagenaud was fifth on the time chart in the first practice session. After Pagenaud shut off the car and guided it into the pit box in the afternoon session, general manager Rob Edwards decided to end the practice early to allow the team and Honda engineers to analyze data and prepare the car for qualifying.
Honda Performance Development engineers decided an engine change was in order, but it fell outside the parameters of an approved engine change (not meeting its mileage limit or is damaged), which triggered the penalty. Pagenaud was quickest of the 26 cars in the morning session (1:01.8929).
Castroneves also had an issue; he was unable communicate with the crew in the second round.
"So, unfortunately I went over the limit of the car and end up hitting Turn 9 and I thought it was over," he said. "We weren’t able to get in the top three, but the guys came fully focused to fix the car and rear suspension and in seven minutes they switched the entire suspension and we were able to go back there. Burt certainly happy for Team Penske having three cars in the top five."
Franchitti will start ninth. "Our setup wasn't where it needed to be obviously," he said. "I don't think its by accident the Chevy guys were up there. We'll just keep our heads up and get the work done. We still have some tricks up our sleeve." ... Rubens Barrichello will start 13th in his IZOD IndyCar Series debut. "I am playing catch-up all the time. We unfortunately lost the morning session yesterday and I am still learning the circuit while the rest of the field is going flat out. I am pleased though; I improved this morning and today was the first time I have ever used the red (alternate) tires. I can never be pleased with 13th or 14th, but we have to set targets and my targets are high." ... Seven different teams were represented in the top 12 (Round 2).