Will Power claimed a record eighth pole position in an IndyCar Series season as he made a spectacular return to Infineon Raceway, the scene of his back-breaking 2009 crash.
The championship leader left it late before using the faster "red" tires in his group session to make it through, then was knocked out of the top six in round two in the closing stages and had to produce a last-minute lap to secure his place in the Fast Six pole shoot-out. But having reached the crucial segment, there was no stopping Power, as he beat his Penske teammate Helio Castroneves to the top spot by 0.037 second.
"Us not getting through that second round would have been a disaster," said Power, who has participated in all nine Firestone Fast Six sessions this season. "I knew it was going to be very close for pole here. I'm really stoked to get the Verizon team a record eight poles this season.
"It is important that we start up front here. This is the toughest series I have ever raced in. It is just so tight now. You can't leave anything on the table."
Dario Franchitti, Power's nearest title rival, was nearly half a second behind in third.
"The Target car was probably a 95 percent car today," Franchitti reckoned. " I think I left a half a tenth on the table myself with a slight mistake. We'll see what we have tomorrow, but I'm disappointed with third today."
As practice had hinted, it was Alex Tagliani who infiltrated the Penske/Ganassi group in the Fast Six. The FAZZT driver took fourth place, pushing Ryan Briscoe (Penske) and Scott Dixon (Ganassi) back to the third row.
"With the tires the way they are, you only have about one lap," Tagliani said. "The tires we had on the car, we used in the second segment and I missed Turn 3 by a little bit (on my flying lap). The car pushed and I missed 3A. That was the lap. The second lap was good, but it was not as good as the first lap could have been."
Dreyer & Reinbold's Justin Wilson missed out on a Fast Six spot by a narrow 0.0088sec and will start seventh, ahead of Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan. Raphael Matos (De Ferran Dragon) completes the top 10.
Simona de Silvestro had another strong run for HVM in 11th, while Dan Wheldon (Panther) led his group for a while, was pushed down to seventh and outside the cutoff, then squeezed back in at the expense of Graham Rahal, who then lost another place to his Newman/Haas teammate Hideki Mutoh. Wheldon went on to qualify 12th in round two.
Wilson only just made it through to the top 12 with a last-gasp effort – which came at the expense of Formula Renault 3.5 champion Bertrand Baguette, who will therefore start 13th for Conquest.
Pos Driver Team Time Session
1. Will Power Penske 1m16.5282s Fast six
2. Helio Castroneves Penske 1m16.5652s Fast six
3. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1m16.9437s Fast six
4. Alex Tagliani FAZZT 1m17.2068s Fast six
5. Ryan Briscoe Penske 1m17.2108s Fast six
6. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1m17.3469s Fast six
7. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold 1m16.9447s Round 2
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 1m17.1317s Round 2
9. Tony Kanaan Andretti 1m17.3181s Round 2
10. Raphael Matos De Ferran Dragon 1m17.3710s Round 2
11. Simona de Silvestro HVM 1m17.7429s Round 2
12. Dan Wheldon Panther 1m17.8280s Round 2
13. Bertrand Baguette Conquest 1m17.5238s Group 1
14. Hideki Mutoh Newman/Haas 1m17.5186s Group 2
15. EJ Viso KV 1m17.6825s Group 1
16. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas 1m17.5284s Group 2
17. Takuma Sato KV 1m17.7112s Group 1
18. Marco Andretti Andretti 1m17.6216s Group 2
19. JR Hildebrand Dreyer & Reinbold 1m17.7659s Group 1
20. Mario Moraes KV 1m17.7532s Group 2
21. Vitor Meira Foyt 1m17.9149s Group 1
22. Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne 1m18.0422s Group 2
23. Danica Patrick Andretti 1m18.3995s Group 1
24. Milka Duno Dale Coyne 1m22.2980s Group 2
25. Francesco Dracone Conquest 1m21.2262s Group 1