Will Power started his 2011 IndyCar title bid with another commanding street course pole position in St Petersburg.
The 2010 series runner-up had been quickest in two out of three practice sessions, and after his Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe and Ganassi's Scott Dixon briefly held provisional pole in the "Fast Six" final session, Power produced the fastest lap of the weekend to take pole with a 1:01.9625. Power, though, figures the race will have plenty of action.
"You know where the race it going to be tomorrow. It's going to be double-file restarts and a lot of mayhem," said the Australian, who nonetheless relished his performance in the Fast Six. "I love when you go out to qualify and you give it absolutely everything you've got," he said. "They're the best sessions. The first two segments [you] just look after the tires and at the end then just give it everything that you've got. I love doing that."
Two Ganassi cars will chase Power off the start, with champion Dario Franchitti shrugging off a morning practice crash to get closest to the Australian with a lap 0.3328sec away from pole and 0.1sec ahead of teammate Dixon.
"I was just finding the limit each lap more and more," related Franchitti. "I was getting a little bit braver each lap but I just ran out of tire. It's a great starting spot and the Target crew did an outstanding job putting the car back together after the incident I had in the morning session."
Mike Conway could not quite repeat his top three form from practice, but fourth on his debut with Andretti Autosport and his first event back since his ferocious Indianapolis 500 crash was still a tremendous result.
Briscoe and Dreyer & Reinbold's Justin Wilson were the other drivers to make it through to the final session and will line up on row three.
Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport) narrowly missed out on a spot in the pole shootout and will share row four with Tony Kanaan. Kanaan was delighted to start his KV deal with eighth place, three positions ahead of teammate Takuma Sato. KV's third driver EJ Viso only qualified 21st but at least completed a session without incident for the first time this weekend.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports' return to IndyCar got off to a great start as Alex Tagliani qualified 10th, just behind Penske's Helio Castroneves.
Vitor Meira came close to pulling off a surprise top-12 position for A.J. Foyt's team, on a weekend when its legendary boss is absent while recovering from having a stent inserted to clear a blocked artery earlier this week. Meira was edged outside the group one cut-off by a late improvement from Andretti, so starts 13th.
Friday morning pacesetter Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti) surprisingly failed to get beyond the group stages and lines up 14th, ahead of Newman/Haas' Oriol Servia – another man whose practice form suggested he was on course for the top 12, only to fail to get a clean lap in during early qualifying.
The group two session ended with a massive accident for Conquest's Sebastian Saavedra after the Colombian misunderstood a marshal's instruction and exited the pits into the path of Sebastien Bourdais' Dale Coyne car. Contact between the two sent Saavedra heavily into the wall, ruling out Conquest's primary chassis for the weekend. Both drivers were unhurt.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Will Power Penske 1m01.9625s
2. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1m02.2953s + 0.3328s
3. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1m02.3975s + 0.4350s
4. Mike Conway Andretti 1m02.5306s + 0.5681s
5. Ryan Briscoe Penske 1m02.5744s + 0.6119s
6. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold 1m02.7729s + 0.8104s
7. Marco Andretti Andretti 1m02.6312s (Round 2)
8. Tony Kanaan KV 1m02.7818s (Round 2)
9. Helio Castroneves Penske 1m02.8204s (Round 2)
10. Alex Tagliani Schmidt 1m02.8225s (Round 2)
11. Takuma Sato KV 1m02.9312s (Round 2)
12. Graham Rahal Ganassi 1m03.0640s (Round 2)
13. Vitor Meira Foyt 1m03.1315s (Group 1)
14. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 1m03.1778s (Group 2)
15. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas 1m03.2434s (Group 1)
16. Raphael Matos AFS 1m03.2594s (Group 2)
17. Simona de Silvestro HVM 1m03.2724s (Group 1)
18. Sebastien Bourdais Coyne 1m03.3188s (Group 2)
19. Danica Patrick Andretti 1m03.3764s (Group 1)
20. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold 1m03.8036s (Group 2)
21. EJ Viso KV 1m03.4065s (Group 1)
22. James Jakes Coyne 1m03.8854s (Group 2)
23. Charlie Kimball Ganassi 1m03.5162s (Group 1)
24. Sebastian Saavedra Conquest 1m03.9696s (Group 2)
25. JR Hildebrand Panther 1m03.8256s (Group 1)