Highlights from the final practice session at St Pete

Will Power has kicked off his 2011 IndyCar title ambitions in the best possible way by clinging pole position for the season-opening race on the challenging St Petersburg street circuit.

The Australian – who lost the championship title to Dario Franchitti – finished fastest in the second and third practice sessions before qualifying, and then went quickest in the ‘Fast Six’ phase of qualifying to snatch pole from Franchitti. Power’s pole lap was the fastest of the race weekend to-date, with a 1:01.9625.

Franchitti will start alongside his main championship rival for Sunday’s race, which is a good result considering he suffered a heavy smash in final practice at the circuit’s fastest chicane. The Scot managed to beat his Ganassi team-mate Scott Dixon into third place by just 0.1 seconds.

Mike Conway Andretti’s returnee driver Mike Conway – who had missed much of last season recovering from his terrifying accident at the Indy 500 – couldn’t quite repeat some impressive practice form, but he still out-performed his more-fancied team-mates to finish fourth-fastest overall, edging the Penske of Ryan Briscoe into fifth place for the race’s rolling start. Justin Wilson was slowest in the ‘Fast Six’ group and will complete the third row.

Seventh-quickest Marco Andretti was unlucky to narrowly miss out on a crack at pole position when he was seventh-fastest in the second knockout round of qualifying.

And perhaps the biggest surprise of all in qualifying was that Tony Kanaan – signed at the last minute to the KV Racing outfit and having not turned a wheel in the pre-season – qualified eighth-fastest. His position might leave Andretti looking in his mirrors for an counter-attack after the American publically trashed Kanaan’s contribution to the Andretti Autosports squad (when they were team-mates) in a web blog this week.

Kanaan’s performance will have his more established team-mates at KV Racing – Takuma Sato (11th fastest), EV Viso (21st) – scratching their heads to look for an improved performance in the Group Lotus-backed team. Viso, in particular, had a troubled build-up to qualifying, suffering an on-track incident in each of the three practice sessions.

Qualifying ninth-quickest was Penske’s third driver, Hélio Castroneves, while Alex Tagliani finished a very creditable tenth-fastest in the first full-time IndyCar outing for the Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

AJ Foyt’s Vitor Meira was unlucky to miss out on a sport in the second knock-out round of qualifying and a shot at the top-ten, just being edged out by a late improvement from Andretti in the dying seconds of the first phase of qualifying. Team boss AJ Foyt is missing in action this weekend, convalescing in hospital after surgery where he had a stent inserted to unblock an artery.

Disappointment was in order for Andretti driver Ryan Hunter-Reay – fastest in the opening practice session – who couldn’t go quick enough in the group stages of qualifying and lines up 14th, while team-mate Danica Patrick was slowest of Andretti’s runners and finds herself starting 19th.

Perhaps the biggest incident in qualifying came with a clumsy moment for rookie driver Sebastian Saavedra, who collided with Sébastien Bourdais as he exited the pits during the group qualifying stage after misunderstanding a marshal’s instructions. Saavedra’s Conquest car was extensively damaged and is a write-off for the rest of the weekend, and it was little surprise that neither made it beyond the first phase of qualifying.


IndyCar Grand Prix of St Petersburg Qualifying Results:

Driver Team Time
1. Will Power AUS Team Penske 1:01.9625
2. Dario Franchitti GBR Target Chip Ganassi 1:02.2953 + 0.3328
3. Scott Dixon NZL Target Chip Ganassi 1:02.3975 + 0.4350
4. Mike Conway GBR Andretti Autosport 1:02.5306 + 0.5681
5. Ryan Briscoe AUS Team Penske 1:02.5744 + 0.6119
6. Justin Wilson GBR Dreyer & Reinbold Racing 1:02.7729 + 0.8104
7. Marco Andretti USA Andretti Autosport 1:02.6312 (Round 2)
8. Tony Kanaan BRZ KV Racing Technology Lotus 1:02.7818 (Round 2)
9. Hélio Castroneves BRZ Team Penske 1:02.8204 (Round 2)
10. Alex Tagliani CDN Sam Schmidt Motorsports 1:02.8225 (Round 2)
11. Takuma Sato JPN KV Racing Technology Lotus 1:02.9312 (Round 2)
12. Graham Rahal USA Service Central Chip Ganassi 1:03.0640 (Round 2)
13. Vitor Meira BRZ AJ Foyt Enterprises 1:03.1315 (Group 1)
14. Ryan Hunter-Reay USA Andretti Autosport 1:03.1778 (Group 2)
15. Oriol Servià ESP Newman/Haas Racing 1:03.2434 (Group 1)
16. Raphael Matos BRZ AFS Racing 1:03.2594 (Group 2)
17. Simona di Silvestro SUI HVM Racing 1:03.2724 (Group 1)
18. Sébastien Bourdais FRA Dale Coyne Racing 1:03.3188 (Group 2)
19. Danica Patrick USA Andretti Autosport 1:03.3764 (Group 1)
20. Ana Beatriz BRZ Dreyer & Reinbold Racing 1:03.8036 (Group 2)
21. EJ Viso VEN KV Racing Technology Lotus 1:03.4065 (Group 1)
22. James Jakes GBR Dale Coyne Racing 1:03.8854 (Group 2)
23. Charlie Kimball USA Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi 1:03.5162 (Group 1)
24. Sebastian Saavedra COL Conquest Racing 1:03.9696 (Group 2)
25. JR Hildebrand USA Panther Racing 1:03.8256 (Group 1)

[Original images via IndyCar; video via IndyCar]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.