Last year's St Petersburg winner Graham Rahal will start this year's IndyCar Series opener at the Florida street track from pole position.
The 20-year-old Newman/Haas/Lanigan driver sailed through to the fast six -- the final round of IndyCar's knockout qualifying system -- and pipped his former teammate Justin Wilson to the top spot in the last two minutes of the session.
Rahal admitted he was surprised with the speed of the lap, especially after he smacked the wall on the exit of Turn 14.
"We knew we were fast yesterday but I'm a little surprised today," Rahal said. "A lot of other guys ran reds [softer tires] and we didn't have any left so I ran blacks [the harder compound].
"I hit the wall there, trying to get the power down a little bit earlier because I thought there was a little more in the car. I just tried a little too hard. But to pull it out is obviously a special moment."
Wilson start alongside Rahal at the front, ahead of a second row of Tony Kanaan and Ryan Briscoe. Dario Franchitti had been quickest in Q2 and set the pace early in Q3, also touching the wall at Turn 14 on his best lap, but eventually had to settle for fifth. Australian Will Power will start sixth, the last of those to make the fast six shootout on his Penske debut.
Reigning champion Scott Dixon was the most significant casualty of the cull ahead of Q3. The New Zealander struggled to keep the back end of his Chip Ganassi Racing car under control throughout the session and could not match the pace of the top six, eventually qualifying eighth.
Alex Tagliani just missed out on Q3's fast six, but was still a highly impressive seventh fastest for Conquest Racing after not turning a single lap of testing during the winter.
Mike Conway made it through to Q2 on his IndyCar debut, thanks to setting the third fastest lap of the second group in Q1. But he didn't get to take to the track in the second session because he damaged his car in a crash right at the end of Q1.
The Briton had already sealed a spot in the next round when he clipped the wall on the inside of Turn 9 and bounced across the track into the outside wall, breaking the left-rear wheel and suspension on his Dreyer & Reinbold car.
"I'm very disappointed and really sorry for the guys -- we had the pace to make the top six," said Conway. "It was my mistake, my fault. I'm sorry for the team, I need a good run tomorrow."
Robert Doornbos, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti were among those eliminated in the first round of qualifying, missing the top six in their respective groups.
"It's very competitive, that's why it's such a great series," said Doornbos. "We started strong this morning, up in the top three in practice. Qualifying on alternate tires caught us out a bit with the balance shift. I came in after the last lap in P4 and just got bumped by Tony [Kanaan]. But it's a long race tomorrow, I'm sure we will be strong."
Grand Prix of St. Petersburg starting lineup
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan 1m02.4110s
2. Justin Wilson Dale Coyne 1m02.4604s
3. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green 1m02.5307s
4. Ryan Briscoe Penske 1m02.5699s
5. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1m02.6927s
6. Will Power Penske 1m02.7368s
7. Alex Tagliani Conquest 1m02.6952s
8. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1m02.9891s
9. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon 1m03.1344s
10. Darren Manning Dreyer & Reinbold 1m03.3038s
11. Dan Wheldon Panther 1m03.4733s
12. Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold -
13. Robert Doornbos Newman/Haas/Lanigan 1m02.7934s
14. Ryan Hunter-Reay Vision 1m03.0223s
15. Danica Patrick Andretti Green 1m02.8268s
16. EJ Viso HVM 1m03.0601s
17. Vitor Meira Foyt 1m02.9132s
18. Marco Andretti Andretti Green 1m03.3652s
19. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green 1m03.3300s
20. Mario Moraes KV 1m03.4520s
21. Stanton Barrett 3G 1m06.5934s
22. Ed Carpenter Vision 1m04.2416s