Power nips Sato for pole in St. Petersburg
It was a day of surprises in St. Pete. The fact that Will Power won the pole in his Verizon sponsored Penske Chevy was no surprise on Saturday for the Honda IndyCar GP of St. Petersburg. What was a surprise, however, were others in the top-6. Takuma Sato was 2nd in an AJ Foyt Honda (yes, you read that right) and Simona de Silvestro was third in her first race with KV Racing, beating her more experienced teammate Tony Kanaan.
For Power it was his fourth consecutive pole at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as he claimed the inaugural Verizon P1 Pole Award at the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street course.
Power was clocked at 61.2070 seconds in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. After posting the fastest time in Friday afternoon practice, Power backed it up through the Firestone Fast Six qualifying session to earn his 30th career pole.
His lap was more the two-tenths of a second faster than his lap that topped the speed chart on Friday.
“I guess it’s a good thing as the Verizon driver that I won the first Verizon P1 Pole Award,” said Power. “I thought (qualifying) was going to be very tight. The car was very tight on new tires but we made a few changes for the last run and it was good to see some new people up there.”
With an underpowered engine last year, Simona de Silvestro often felt as if she were driving in a lower class despite sharing the track with her Izod IndyCar peers.
"It's unbelievable to be with Chevy and the work they've done," she said. "Every test, they try to accommodate every driver to their driving style, and that's the biggest thing to be with a manufacturer like that makes it really special.
"After not having a teammate for the past three years and an underpowered Lotus engine last year I had some doubts about how fast I could be. If anything this is more of a relief for me to know that I can be competitive with these guys."
When asked how teammate Tony Kanaan took getting beat she said, "The relationship in the team is really good. It is a team effort. we push each other to be better and we are happy for each other when the other does well. There is no #1 and 32 driver in this team. It is a true team effort."James Hinchcliffe will start 4th and Helio Castroneves rounded out the top-5.
Another big surprise was rookie Tristan Vautier qualifying sixth in his first IndyCar race.
There has been a lot of talk this weekend about the domination of the Chevy teams, but in qualifying Takuma Sato qualified 2nd with Honda power and rookie Tristan Vautier qualified 6th with a Honda behind him. Both said they are happy with their Honda power and that car balance is more important.
"This is a great result for us," said Sato. "I'm really proud of the whole team, not just for the work we've done this weekend, but for the preparations we made all winter long. I tried everything I could, and so did the team. We have good balance on both types of tires [primary "blacks" and the softer "reds"] and a good Honda engine, so I think we're ready for the race."
Respected engineer Don Holliday is still with the team and he definitely has made a difference on street and road courses where the AJ Foyt team has struggled for years.
Five different teams made the Firestone Fast Six
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Entergy Areva KVRT Chevrolet): ""It's awesome. The whole weekend has been going really well for us and It's really cool to finally get the results we wanted. Thanks to KV Racing Technology for giving me the opportunity. And the whole Nuclear Clean Air Energy campaign to be supporting me after the year we had last year. It's cool to get the results. It's unbelievable. We were right there with Will and Sato who are usually are always up there and it's fun to be up there with them."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet): "Unfortunately, we had some issues yesterday and today we made some mistakes and at this point in the game, you can't make mistakes. Fifth is the same position we started last year, and hopefully, we can finish in the same position as last year."
TRISTAN VAUTIER (No. 55 Florida Lottery c/w Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "I think looking at everyone, I think the chassis, we all struggled so much with the balance that there's so much work on this side that I don't really focus on whether my engine is the best or not. I am happy with what we have. We have a lot of work on the car so we focused on that. Honda has been good." (Don't you win your debut race?) "I did the last two championships I did. Obviously, this one will is a little bit tougher, I think as the times should show. It did happen in the last two championships I did, but this one is going to be much tougher."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "Between Will and I it's always getting close for us this weekend and unfortunately no we didn't get the fastest. I am really glad for the team to get the 2nd position for the season-starter. it's really perfect."(Night and day between this year and last year) "Well obviously the team worked really hard over the course of the winter testing and I've done the preparation as much as I could. The last three weeks testing, including Sebring and Barber, have been very very progressive. So I think we made a good improvement and I'm really happy to show the improvement over the course of the qualifying. We had a good car on the long runs so hopefully tomorrow we will be challenging for the winning."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 1 DHL Chevrolet): "This morning we got aggressive with the setup and we tried some things that didn't really work, so we went back on it for qualifying and didn't quite hit the sweet spot. We were only a couple tenths off. Looks like we were less than a tenth off from being in the Firestone Fast Six. As usual it's tight - if you miss it by a hair, you're going to be on the outside looking in. Eighth is in the top 10 - we can start from there and still race for the win. Optimistic about that, just disappointed that we didn't get the DHL Chevy into the top six."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "We have just been a bit behind in getting the Target cars up to speed here this weekend for some reason. I keep finding myself fighting understeer in the car. We have another day to work on it and will definitely be working on some solutions before morning warm-up tomorrow."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): ""We had a slow start to the weekend but we are moving in the right direction. But it's frustrating not being up there where we want to be. We're struggling with the car a bit and made some small gains today. I think we'll be able to improve both cars a bit over night. I had a car that had too much oversteer in the first session, and we tried something to correct that and it just produced understeer. We'll continue to work hard and see what we can come up with for the Target car tomorrow."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Hydroxycut KVRT-SH Racing Chevrolet): "It's a shame. We had very good momentum going on the #11, the Chevy power was great and the Firestone tires help up well. I had a Top-Five car, but we made a minor change between the qualifying sessions that did not go our way, leaving us back in 11th on the grid. Well, tomorrow is another day and I'm sure we'll be fine when the green flag flies."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Honda): "It was a pretty good qualifying effort. It was the first time we've run red's this year. We have a really good race car and we're further ahead than where we were this time, last year. The field is so competitive, I think it's going to be about strategy, running smart-laps and getting the fuel mileage you need in the race tomorrow. I have a lot of confidence in the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen crew, especially in pit lane, so we'll be good."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "We had an OK qualifying session. It would have been great to advance. I think we lost a little bit of time from the practice session to qualifying. This is the first race of the season and we have a lot to learn. Hopefully, we can learn a few more things in the warm-up session that will help us in both the race and the other street courses we're going to later this season."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda): "We had some control issues on the throttle during qualifying. Last year we started 16th with an engine change and this year we are stronger. I believe that the tough moments make us stronger. We had a difficult weekend but I'm very happy with the handling of the car. I hope we have a strong race and put on a good show for the fans."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "That was the first time we had been on the red Firestone tires, so we are still learning how they handle them. We have been talking about how we can use the reds in the race too. The grip level is good with red tires but they change later in the stint. We just need to see how we can be prepared for the race. We are getting some good grip on the rear tires, but we had some understeer in the low speed corners. So we need to work in that area for Sunday. Boy, it is competitive out there. There was just over one second in the top 12 in the that first qualifying group. That makes it hard to move up when the field is that tight. This is just a highly-competitive series."
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): "I've got to thank everyone at Dale Coyne Racing for working so hard this weekend. We've not been quick enough, but we've kept plugging away, trying to figure out how to make the Sonny's Bar-B-Q Honda work with the new Firestone tire. We're mid-pack right now, but hopefully we can keep making improvements. Our focus now is on having a strong race tomorrow."
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda): ""We're still working to find that balance out there on the Barracuda No. 98. Firestone has brought us a new tire this year for the street circuits and it feels like we need to keep working to find what this tire likes compared to last year's. Overall, it has been great to get back from the offseason, and looking forward to a strong race tomorrow."
E.J. VISO (No. 5 Team Venezuela/Andretti Autosport/HVM Chevrolet): "Well it was a tough day today especially with the morning we had. Something failed in the practice session this morning, and we could only get a couple laps - it was tough to recover. Qualifying didn't go the way we wanted either and we're missing a lot of downforce in the car which made the car understeer like crazy. I'm happy for my teammates, though, they did a good job; James (Hinchcliffe) is starting top six. I really think tomorrow will be a good day. There are plenty of variables that can affect us, including the weather, but I totally trust the strategies that Andretti is going to put together for tomorrow's race.
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 25 RC Cola Chevrolet): ""We had a good team effort today. I would have liked to see something in the Firestone Fast Six, but it takes so much to get everything right. The tires are pretty finicky, so that can make things pretty interesting for days like this. We will make some adjustments tonight, and come back tomorrow ready to go."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet): "It was sort of the big first challenge for the weekend for us was our first qualifying of the year. It's a big unknown, and obviously it was the Firestone Reds because we had no opportunity to test on them or practice with them. The first time you get to drive them is really when it counts in qualifying. So to go out there and get a start for the GoDaddy car, we're pretty pleased. I would have liked to have seen a few more of my teammates in the Fast Six, but we'll get together tonight and put our heads together and try to make a good race car, because, obviously, we didn't quite have enough in qualifying. Will was outrageously quick to get on the pole and everybody. It's a good group up here for the Fast Six. So just happy to be in the first two rows of the first race."
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