After a three hour rain delay, Takuma Sato would lay down the quickest lap in the Firestone Fast Six to score the Version 1 Pole Award for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“I knew we had a strong package from last year,” the driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply Toyota said. “Today was such an excitement, and everyone did a great job.”
Sato led practice yesterday and was able to lay down a quick lap of 1 minute, 1.8686 seconds on a quickly-drying 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit. It marks Sato’s fourth career pole. Sato has won the last two poles decided by Firestone Fast Six qualifying. He also won the Verizon P1 Award for the first race at Houston’s Reliant Park last October.
2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan was second quickest as he switches from KV Racing to Chip Ganassi Racing for 2014. There’s a lot of pressure on Kanaan to perform with him taking over the No. 10 Target Chevrolet previously piloted by Dario Franchitti.
“I think it has been like three years since I have been in the top six,” Kanaan said. “It feels really good. I can’t thank the Target Chip Ganassi Racing guys enough. A lot of people made a lot of comments over the years because we struggled so much in qualifying on street and road courses and nobody was counting on that. I like to be the element of surprise. Nobody was talking about us at Indy last year and nobody was talking about this weekend. Although this is not even half of the battle because this is qualifying. Front row, man it feels pretty good.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay posted the third quickest time in the Firestone Fast Six, followed by Will Power, defending series champion Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti.
Andretti’s rookie teammate Carlos Munoz qualified seventh after his lap in the second ground of qualifying, followed by fellow Jack Hawksworth. Munoz will run the full schedule this year for Andretti Autosport after his success in the Indy Lights ranks and a second place effort in last year’s Indianapolis 500.
Briscoe will start ninth after leading the morning session, followed by Helio Castroneves and Mike Conway. Conway is splitting the schedule with Ed Carpenter this year in the No. 20 Fuzzy Vodka car.
The session didn’t go without any red flags, as both Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe had problems in the first group of round one qualifying as both drivers made slight contact with the tire barrier. As a result, both drivers were stripped of their two fastest laps that they posted in the session per IndyCar rules.
“I just messed up,” Rahal, who will start 21st, said. “I went into Turn 4, thought I was under control, thought I broke pretty well but all of a sudden the right front locked and I just went straight on (into the tires). Unfortunately we did a lap time that would have advanced us but the lap time doesn’t count. Obviously I’m very disappointed. I would have liked to advance but I didn’t do a good enough job today so we’re going to have our work cut out for us in the race.”
Hinchcliffe won last year’s event and will start 19th in this year’s event.
“I made sure that the 27 crew has our work cut out for us, that’s for sure,” Hinchcliffe said. “Really mad at myself. Conditions were obviously tricky, but I just lost it. It’s a real shame because the guys have done such a good job, we were quick in the dry, quick in the wet until my spin, the United Fiber & Data Honda deserved to be higher up today. But when the going gets tough, the tough get it done anyway. We’ve got the pace so hopefully some good strategy will see us come good tomorrow.”
The red flags unfortunately made for a tough qualifying session for others, including KVSH Racing’s Sebastian Bourdais.
“It wasn’t much of a qualifying session for the Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing team,” Bourdais commented. “Because of the track conditions we waited to go out to make sure that we had room in case something happened, so everyone else got in a lap before the first red flag. When we went back out I got one lap at speed before the second red flag.”
Notably: Juan Pablo Montoya in his first race back in open-wheel will start the race from the 18th position.
“The biggest problem for the No. 2 Verizon Chevy was the last corner, for some reason,” Montoya said. “I just couldn’t come off that corner and get the car to turn. (Takuma) Sato was in front of me and I would lose everything to him right there. It is what it is. I haven’t driven in wet conditions in a long time and we never had an opportunity to do it in testing. I don’t think we’re that far off. I’m still getting acclimated back to the Verizon IndyCar Series. My team is still getting acclimated to me. If that process was complete we would be a lot better. We are definitely making progress.”
The drivers will have a quick practice on Sunday morning before the race at 9:45 a.m. EST, with the race scheduled for 3:20 p.m. EST.
1. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 01:01.8686 (104.738)
2. (10) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 01:02.1637 (104.241)
3. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 01:02.2167 (104.152)
4. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 01:02.3955 (103.854)
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Chevy, 01:02.4454 (103.771)
6. (25) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 01:02.9595 (102.923)
7. (34) Carlos Munoz, Dallara-Honda, 01:03.3955 (102.215)
8. (98) Jack Hawksworth, Dallara-Honda, 01:03.5738 (101.929)
9. (8) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 01:03.6206 (101.854)
10. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 01:03.6635 (101.785)
11. (17) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 01:03.8374 (101.508)
12. (20) Mike Conway, Dallara-Chevy, 01:03.9618 (101.310)
13. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 01:15.8337 (85.450)
14. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 01:12.3741 (89.535)
15. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Dallara-Honda, 01:15.9111 (85.363)
16. (19) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 01:12.5890 (89.270)
17. (18) Carlos Huertas, Dallara-Honda, 01:16.8105 (84.363)
18. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Dallara-Chevy, 01:12.6994 (89.134)
19. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 02:34.4862 (41.945)
20. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Chevy, 01:13.0048 (88.761)
21. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, No Time (No Speed)
22. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 01:13.1170 (88.625)