Will Power took his fifth pole of the IndyCar season and his second in a row, as title contenders Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon both struggled in qualifying for the St Petersburg season finale.
The normal street course qualifying format was utilised, with the field split into two groups, the top six in each advancing.
Then the best six from the following group goes through to the ‘Fast Six’, with the fastest person in that session scoring pole position.
Newgarden trails Dixon by 32 points and needs to outscore him by 33 to take home the title.
However, he could only qualify ninth, although a penalty for team-mate Simon Pagenaud promoted him to eighth. A finish of fourth or lower for Newgarden, regardless of Dixon’s race position will mean Newgarden can’t win the title.
“We just made it harder on ourselves”, said Newgarden. “We took a swing at it for Q2, and it wasn’t the right direction.
“I didn’t get the most out of it. I definitely had a lot of slides and wasn’t clean. I think just putting a clean lap together would have been good to transfer, and we just didn’t do the job.”
Both drivers struggled in the round of 12, with Dixon set to line up 11th on the grid, three places behind Newgarden.
“We’re starting 11th and Josef is eighth, so that definitely helps us a lot, them not qualifying on pole and getting an extra point. We’ll keep working hard,” Dixon said.
Power is a qualifying specialist in IndyCar and diced with danger by brushing the St Pete walls in a daring last-ditch attempt to take pole.
A gaggle of four Honda-powered cars chased him to the flag, with Alexander Rossi leading three Andretti cars and an Andretti-backed entry in the final order.
Rossi comes in off the back of leaping up the standings from 18th after four consecutive podiums, although a win evades him for the first time in a season during his IndyCar career.
Colton Herta took third as he narrowly beat team-mate James Hinchcliffe, who looks set to make the #26 car his own full-time for 2021 after taking it over from the previous round.
Meyer Shank’s Jack Harvey took fifth, while Patricio O’Ward struggled to put his lap together and was over seven tenths adrift of pole.
Sebastien Bourdais began a race weekend not far from his home in style with the AJ Foyt team, driving the car he took over at the last round to start seventh.
Behind Newgarden, rookie champion elect Rinus VeeKay and Oliver Askew – returning from missing the last round due to concussion and driving his last race for Arrow McLaren SP after being dropped by the team – rounded out the top 10.
There were a number of penalties that caused a delay while IndyCar decided who would go through to the round of 12 from group two.
Both VeeKay and Askew initially had laps deleted for not slowing down under a yellow, but were reinstated when it was made clear the wrong laps had been deleted initially.
Last year’s pole-sitter Felix Rosenqvist was fourth in group two so should have made the 12-car fight to reach the top six, but was pinged for blocking Alex Palou.
Rosenqvist said that the IndyCar system told him that Palou was on an out-lap and therefore didn’t need to be let passt at that moment.
Palou and Conor Daly – whose car had been sent back to the paddock but was rushed back – thought they were being promoted into the round of 12 but Askew and VeeKay’s reinstatement pushed them back out.
Scott McLaughlin will start 21st, having brushed the wall early in qualifying. He showed impressive pace on the harder black tyre in practice, but was almost a second adrift of the fastest person in his group, Rossi.
Marco Andretti received a costly penalty for blocking Josef Newgarden during group 1. He lost two laps and will start on the back row.
He’s the car outside of the top 22 in owners’ points at the moment, which would mean the team wouldn’t get the $1 million payout for being part of the series’ Leaders Circle programme.
|1||Will Power||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m0.773s||1m0.332s||1m01.036s|
|2||Alexander Rossi||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m0.886s||1m0.735s||1m01.173s|
|3||Colton Herta||Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m0.661s||1m0.368s||1m01.181s|
|4||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m0.652s||1m0.735s||1m01.362s|
|5||Jack Harvey||Meyer Shank Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m0.731s||1m0.626s||1m01.367s|
|6||Patricio O'Ward||Arrow McLaren SP||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m0.941s||1m0.618s||1m01.367s|
|7||Sébastien Bourdais||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m0.88s||1m0.81s|
|8||Josef Newgarden||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m0.743s||1m0.867s|
|9||Rinus VeeKay||Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m0.772s||1m0.883s|
|10||Oliver Askew||Arrow McLaren SP||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m01.018s||1m0.977s|
|11||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m0.872s||1m01.028s|
|12||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m0.874s||1m01.229s|
|13||Takuma Sato||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m0.942s|
|14||Conor Daly||Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m01.16s|
|15||Marcus Ericsson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m0.961s|
|16||Alex Palou||Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m01.163s|
|17||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m01.145s|
|18||Santino Ferrucci||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m01.179s|
|19||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m01.173s|
|20||Charlie Kimball||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m01.242s|
|21||Scott McLaughlin||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m01.64s|
|22||Felix Rosenqvist||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m01.522s|
|23||Marco Andretti||Andretti Herta with Marco & Curb-Agajanian||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m01.086s|
|24||Max Chilton||Carlin||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m21.79s|