Will Power on pole for IndyCar season opener
Australian driver Will Power won the pole for IndyCar's season-opening St. Petersburg Grand Prix for the fourth successive year on Saturday.
Power posted a best lap of 1 minute, 01.2070 seconds on the 1.8-mile (2.9-kilometer), 14-turn street circuit.
"Good start to the year," said Power, who won his 30th pole to move ahead of Dario Franchitti of Scotland for seventh on the all-time list.
Right behind Power was Takuma Sato of Japan, making his first start for AJ Foyt Racing. Sato had never qualified higher than 11th at St. Pete before claiming a spot on the front row for the first time since Edmonton in 2011.
Qualifying a career-best third was Simona de Silvestro, the Swiss who had never before even advanced to the Fast Six round of qualifications. She's been among the fastest drivers all weekend in her debut for new team KV Racing Technology and can sense a huge opportunity ahead of her.
De Silvestro finished a career-best fourth at St. Pete in 2011, losing third place to Tony Kanaan in the closing laps.
"It's really cool to finally get the results we wanted," she said.
James Hinchcliffe qualified fourth for Andretti Autosport and was followed by Helio Castroneves, who joined his Penske Racing teammate Power in the Fast Six.
Then it was rookie Tristan Vautier, the 2012 Indy Lights champion from France, who marked his IndyCar debut weekend by claiming a spot in the Fast Six in his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry.
Five teams were represented in the Fast Six, with only Penske putting teammates in the final group.
Failing to advance was defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Franchitti and Scott Dixon of New Zealand.
The absence of both Ganassi cars from the Fast Six was predicted as early as Friday as the Honda teams have struggled since the opening practice. No Honda drivers made it out of the first round of qualifying, and Sato and Vautier were the only two Hondas in the final round.
A year after Honda won just four of the 15 races - but one of those victories was the Indianapolis 500 with Franchitti - flagship team owner Ganassi admitted on Saturday he's "starting to eyeball the red flags to grab them."
"I think Honda has some work to do, but I think they know that," Ganassi said. "They were mission accomplished last year, at the right time, when it counted most. To have to rely on that again is a tall order ... I don't know if they want to win bad enough. They talk about everything at Honda but winning."
Ganassi, who uses Chevrolets in NASCAR, finds it interesting that Honda is struggling after six years as IndyCar's sole engine supplier. Chevrolet and Lotus both entered the series last season, and Chevrolet won the driver and manufacturer championships.
It's just Chevy and Honda this season, and Chevy has been fastest so far this weekend.
"They said for years and years and years they want competition," Ganassi said. "Now they've got competition and they are not talking about winning. I feel like they want to sit around and hold hands and sing. I want to win."