ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – When it comes to winning poles in the NTT IndyCar Series, there is none better in this era than Team Penske’s Will Power.
The 2014 IndyCar Series champion and 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner once again saved his fast for last, winning the pole for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg on his final lap. Power’s Chevrolet whipped around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit in 1:00.4594.
It was Power’s eighth pole at St. Petersburg, with all eight coming in the last 10 years. It was the 55th pole of his Indy car career. Mario Andretti is the all-time leader with 67 poles.
“I was really surprised when they said over the radio, ‘P1’ and I said, ‘What?’” Power said on pit lane. “We were on used tires. I was surprised and thought we had another run to do. It’s an awesome job, awesome job.
“To get pole for the first race of the season is awesome.
“Chevrolet has done a fantastic job in the offseason and we have worked on our street car performance. It was not good enough last year. You have to remember, it’s a long race. It’s 110 laps It’s one of those great starts. Being on pole really helps.”
The pole is Team Penske’s ninth at St. Petersburg and Power’s 12th-straight appearance in the Fast Six in this event.
Power is a two-time winner of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, most recently in 2014. He won the pole in 2016 but missed the race because of concussion-like symptoms that turned out to be neck strain and an inner-ear issue from a crash in warmup.
Team Penske teammate and 2017 IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden had the pole for much of the session until Power nipped him at the end. Newgarden wills tart second after his best time 1:00.5570.
“We found our footing this morning and made our cars really good,” Newgarden said. “We did a great job getting into the Fast Six as a team. Team Chevy did a great job giving us everything we need. It’s hard to not be disappointed when you are quick.
“I messed up that first lap but overcooked it at the end.”
Rookie driver Felix Rosenqvist was third in a Chip Ganassi Racing Honda at 1:00.6884. He’ll start in the second row for the first race of his IndyCar Series career.
“It didn’t come easy,” he said. “It was a messy first group where we didn’t get a good lap in at all. Then, I made the Firestone Fast Six. It didn’t come easy. It was a lot of hard work. Amazing start. With a little luck, we can be up there in the race.”
Scott Dixon’s Honda was fourth at 1:00.8544 followed by Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay at 1:01.0784. Alexander Rossi rounded out the Fast Six at 1:01.7739 in a Honda.
The segments leading into the Fast Six had plenty of interest as the first segment was interrupted by two red flags because of crashes by Marco Andretti and Santino Ferrucci. Charlie Kimball was the fastest in the first segment at 1:02.9944, but two-time and defending St. Petersburg winner and four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais did not advance after failing to set a time.
Once again, he will have to try to win the race by starting from behind.
“It’s going to be our only way of doing it,” said Bourdais, who will start Sunday’s race from 19th. “It’s just a shame.
“What can I do?” Bourdais said. “At the end of the day, I put a lot of positive on this weekend. We are going to be fighting for this championship. I was warming up the tires. I never got to push it. It’s frustrating, these moments are not the best for a race car driver. I’ve worked really hard this winter for this moment, it’s disappointing. But, I’m in a good space. We have a good race car and tomorrow we will be strong.”
Initially advancing out of segment two and into the Firestone Fast Six were Newgarden, Power, Colton Herta, Hunter-Reay, Dixon and Rossi. However, after the session was over Herta lost his fastest lap when he was penalized for blocking Charlie Kimball’s fast lap. That moved him out and Rosenqvist in.
“I blocked him, simple as that,” the 18-year-old Herta said. “I’m pretty mad, but rules are rules and I broke them. That’s how it is and that’s how it will be. He was going for a third lap and we were so back on pit lane. I slowed up and wasn’t aware he was behind me until he passed me.
“It sucks for him but it also does for us.”