Dario Franchitti will start Sunday's IZOD IndyCar Series race at Long Beach from pole position after triumphing in a hard-fought qualifying session.
The Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who came into the Long Beach weekend last in the points standings after two disastrous opening races, used his final flying lap to deliver a 1m07.2379s that improved the benchmark laid down by Ryan Hunter-Reay by 0.0555 second.
"That meant a lot," said Franchitti of his 30th career pole.
"We had a very fast race car in Barber, but man, we really made a mess of qualifying. Today it was nice to go out there and really have a great car and get everything out of it. So thank you to everyone on the Target team because it's been a tough start to the season."
Hunter-Reay's time was still good enough to keep him on the front row for Andretti, although Penske's Will Power was only a further 0.05sec in arrears. The Australian will start from third alongside Takuma Sato, who had briefly led the times with a couple of minutes remaining before the final flurry of quick laps.
"The guys gave me a great car as always," said Hunter-Reay, who won at Long Beach in 2010 after starting second. "But this is unfortunate. To lose it by half a tenth is worse than losing it by four-tenths. It was close, but today really doesn't count. We will go get them tomorrow. We are starting from the front row so I think things are looking up for us."
Power admitted a little miscommunication prevented him from making what could have been one last flying lap.
"I just took that one lap and backed off. Tim (Cindric, team boss) said, 'You're barely going to make it,' and I thought he meant on fuel but he meant the checkered. Literally, barely missed it."
He wasn't to disappointed though: "I'd much rather start third than second. With the BS on the starts in these races, you never know what is going to happen. You are better off on the inside..."
Mike Conway converted his early weekend form into a place in the Fast Six, finishing up fifth fastest for his series return in the third Rahal Letterman Lanigan entry, with Helio Castroneves set to line up alongside him.
"In Q3 I think the tire pressures just went a little bit too high and we couldn't get any more time," related Conway. "It's a shame because I think we had a really good shot at pole there."
The Ganassi team could have had two cars in the top six had Scott Dixon not spun and stopped in the middle of Turn 1 late in the first qualifying phase. The New Zealander was fourth astest in his group at that point, but his stranded car – joined moments later by that of Oriol Servia, who arrived in the corner to find the road completely blocked and deliberately drove into the barriers to avoid Dixon – triggered a red flag.
Under series rules, that cost Dixon his two best laps and consigned him to the back of the grid, and Servia, having been deemed equally responsible, was dealt the same punishment. Dixon was mildly annoyed by the penalty.
"My car was still running. I'm sure there were yellows waving," Dixon said. "My car was partially blocking the track, but I was pulling away. It is kind of in the middle. It's a hard call. A tough one. I'm sure if Oriol had seen the yellows and slowed down, maybe he would have gotten around. We were solidly in the top six, and it sucks to go out that way. We will have to fight back from way back tomorrow."
Dixon's exit should have opened the door for Marco Andretti to advance to the next phase, but he was under scrutiny from race control as well for interfering with JR Hildebrand while the latter was on a fast lap. Andretti, too, was penalized, and Hildebrand progressed in his place.