St. Petersburg, Fla – Last year, Chevrolet’s dominated the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. On tracks like St. Pete, they led all but 116 laps throughout the entire season from a year ago. Furthermore, Team Penske has seen their cars start 1-2-3-4 the last two years here, so with an aerokit freeze in the offseason, why expect anything less?
Well, it couldn’t have gone more opposite this weekend so far. Honda’s have been strong since the first practice started yesterday, and that carried over to qualifying this afternoon.
Honda’s took nine of the top 12 starting spots as it was typically the exact opposite of that the last few years.
But, in the Firestone Fast Six, the familiar pole winning foe came out on top. For the seventh time in the last eight years, Will Power won the pole for the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete (12 p.m. ET/ABC/INDYCAR Radio Network). Power, inched through each round and pounced in the end setting a lap of 1:01.0640-seconds in his No. 12 Chevrolet.
Last year, Power won the pole but missed Sunday’s race with an illness. That proved to cost him the season championship. But, he’s healthy this year and has the car to beat still.
It was Power’s 45th career IndyCar pole and Penske’s 246th overall.
“It takes obviously a very good team and kind of getting through that first round there,” Power said after taking the pole on Saturday. “Taking the risk on just doing one lap was good for me, definitely had a bit more meat on the tires in the last round there. We worked on the car too. Made a bit of a wrong setup change there for the last round, and kind of just made it, and went back and did something else. So yeah, very happy to be on pole. It’s really tight competition.”
Power, narrowly beat Scott Dixon for the top spot, as Dixon will start alongside in second. Dixon, turned a lap of 1:01.2219-seconds in his No. 9 Honda, and will give Power a run for the win on Sunday. Despite the second starting spot, he was upset with himself for not winning the pole position.
“That was just on me unfortunately,” Dixon said regarding a mistake he made in the final round. “We have a super fast car and should have been on pole. I just messed up a little on my fastest lap there. I’m obviously disappointed, but the team has four fast cars. We’re working together great with Honda and I can’t wait to start the race tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll have the GE car up front when it counts.”
Dixon, has never won at St. Pete, but he’s been extremely quick all weekend. He was fastest in two of the three practice sessions and third in the other. Then, he qualified second.
James Hinchcliffe who too has been fast all weekend will start third (1:01.3039-seconds) while Josef Newgarden (1:01.7229-seconds) and Takuma Sato (1:01.9851-seconds) rounded out the top five.
The biggest surprise was how off the Penske cars have been overall. Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud and his teammate Helio Castroneves didn’t even make it out of the first round as that duo will start 14th and 16th respectively. Marco Andretti who’s been fast this weekend was the only Andretti car not to advance past Round 1 and will start in-between the Penske duo in 15th.
Sebastien Bourdais got into Turn 13 too hot and crashed into the tire barriers in the second group of round one. He didn’t even complete a lap and will start last in 21st among the 21 car field.
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete Starting Lineup:
Row 1: Will Power, Scott Dixon
Row 2: James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden
Row 3: Takuma Sato, Tony Kanaan
Row 4: Max Chilton, Alexander Rossi
Row 5: Charlie Kimball, Graham Rahal
Row 6: Carlos Munoz, Ryan Hunter-Reay
Row 7: Spencer Pigot, Simon Pagenaud
Row 8: Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves
Row 9: Mikhail Aleshin, Ed Jones R
Row 10: JR Hildebrand, Conor Daly
Row 11: Sebastien Bourdais