Rahal and Wilson to start 1-2 in St. Petersburg
Using the harder black Firestone tires Graham Rahal nipped his NHLR teammate from a year ago, Justin Wilson, now driving for Dale Coyne Racing (on the softer option tires), by just 0.0494s to win the pole for Sunday's Honda GP of St. Petersburg.
Rahal lapped the 14-turn, 1.8-mile course in 1 minute, 2.4110 seconds, 103.828 mph
With the pole Rahal scores the first IndyCar point of the year, and after becoming the youngest driver to win a race in IndyCar history at this event last year, he now becomes the youngest driver to win a pole in IndyCar history. At 20 years, 90 days, Rahal took the record from Marco Andretti, who won the pole last June at Milwaukee at the age of 21 years, 79 days.
"It's great that we're second," said Justin. "The Sonny's Bar-B-Q team have worked hard to get to this point and the guys have done a great job. So I'm very pleased, but at the same time I'm very competitive. Getting this result against the big teams makes this a small victory, but I want to be on pole.
"We had the chance today, but unfortunately we got held up and that ruined our best two laps. We know there's still a lot of potential in there."
Wilson had saved his softer, red Firestone tires from the first qualifying run so that he could use them in the crucial Firestone Fast Six shootout for pole. The softer compound gave a small but significant advantage, but Wilson was unable to capitalize on it.
"Someone backed off right in front of me, right at the end of the lap, and it ruined two of my best laps," he explained. "I came in, refueled and managed to go a tenth quicker on the same tires, but it's pretty hard to do any more on the second run. But I'm pleased for Graham. He's a nice guy and he's had a great day. Hopefully we can have a great day tomorrow."
It's a real David slay Goliath success story as Coyne has not always been the best funded team, but he does the most with what he does have. To beat teams like Penske, Ganassi and Andretti Green is phenomenal and is quite telling because on the high speed ovals the Coynes of the world cannot afford to spend the millions of dollars those teams have spent on making their cars go through the air better.
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team, pole winner): “It's an exciting day for me and a great day for the whole McDonald’s team. It's exciting to be here. I obviously love St. Pete. It was good to me last year, and it's great to be on the pole this year. We didn't really know what to expect because we had the primary tires on there while a couple of guys had the alternates (in the Firestone Fast Six). The alternates were consistently faster today. I didn't really know what to think. I'll tell you what, the car was good, the guys were working hard, and it's great to be on top.”
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 19 Sonny’s Bar-B-Q, second): “It’s great that we’re second. I’m very pleased with the team. We’ve worked hard together up to this point. We’re such a small team in comparison to the guys we’re ahead of. So I’m very pleased, but at the same time, I’m very competitive and even on a small team competing against big teams, I want to be on pole. I want to be the fastest. We had the chance today, but unfortunately we got held up and that ruined our best two laps. And we actually did our quickest lap on a second run on the same set of tires, so there’s a lot of potential in there, we just didn’t get to get it out today.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, third): “It was quite competitive. It was fun to see a lot of people trying to play different strategies on the tires. It was really tough. I think we saw that it was really close for fourth to eighth, and we thought, ‘If we don’t put on the red (alternate) tires, we’re not going to make it to Q2 (Segment 2).’ I ended up using my two red sets in Q1 and Q2. It’s really exciting when things happen like this. It think it’s going to be really fun this year competition-wise because the field is much deeper.”
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, fourth): “Qualifying in the Firestone Fast Six is always an achievement, and we’ll see if we can keep moving forward for the race. It’s going to be tough. We’ve got this alternate tire, a soft tire, that we all have to use in the race tomorrow. We all got a taste of it today. It seemed like it had a little more grip, but in the Fast Six (Dario) Franchitti went slower on it. We’ll see what the temperature is; it could be hurtful for a lot of cars in the race, but we’ve all got to use them at least once and it could mix things up. I’m really looking forward to it.”
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Air Wick, fifth): “I think the track is the same as it was the last time I was here in ’07. It will be a great race tomorrow. I think the guys did a great job putting up the track and it’s all good. As Tony (Kanaan) says, it’s a typical street course, getting faster all the time and getting more rubber down.”
WILL POWER (No. 3 Team Penske, sixth): “It was tough going, especially in the first session. The Team Penske car would have been safe on blacks (primary tires), but we weren’t going to take the risk. It really threw a stunner in the works in terms of tire selection, but we got through each round. It was hard work because I think we did five or six new tire runs in a row. Team Penske needs to work on the car a little bit more, but we know we have a good car, a good team and I’d love to be on the podium tomorrow.”
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 34 Rexall Edmonton Indy, seventh): “I’m very happy with today. It felt more like our first real day on track since yesterday was more of a testing session, just getting back into the groove of things. We almost made it into the Firestone Fast Six. We missed it by just over a couple of thousandths of a second. However, we made it in front of the Ganassi car of (Scott) Dixon and three AGR cars. I think that’s pretty good. I think the team deserves a lot of credit. We came here at the last minute, and we know that there’s more in the car that we need to learn, but we’re just limited with time right now. I’m very pleased that we put in a good performance like this in our first showing, and I hope that we have more to come.”
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, eighth): “We were consistent, but consistently slow. I think the concept with the red tires, and the change there, even for the first go at it, added a lot of excitement. Not just for the fans, but for the drivers as well. Today was tough. You really had to piece a lap together, and I can’t say I got any one lap together. It’s so frustrating – obviously not where we want to start. Getting knocked out of the top six is pretty tough, but we’re going to work out something strategy-wise to make up those spots tomorrow. My teammate did a hell of a job, but he got pushed back there toward the end. He had the car to be on pole. All in all, it was an average day and I think both of us are pretty disappointed.”
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 2 Marines Luczo Dragon Racing, ninth): “I am happy for the team that we achieved a top-10 in our first race. I think we could have made the top six but I got blocked on my quickest lap. I'm very encouraged by our progress. We made a lot of improvement from yesterday but still have a lot to do. This team has done an amazing job. There has not been one mechanical problem, which just shows how good they are. They have done so well together, and I am very happy I could deliver a good qualifying for the team and the Marines. We needed this.”
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