Kanaan presses to St. Pete pole

Tony Kanaan will start from the pole in Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, his first on the tight 1.8-mile street circuit. Kanaan survived the new IndyCar Series qualifying for road and street circuits, making his way through three...

Tony Kanaan will start from the pole in Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, his first on the tight 1.8-mile street circuit. Kanaan survived the new IndyCar Series qualifying for road and street circuits, making his way through three rounds to claim his ninth career pole.

The IndyCars were divided into two randomly drawn groups for Saturday's first practice session. The first round of qualifying started with these same groups each given 20 minutes of track time. The top six from each group graduated to a second round of qualifying, which lasted 15 minutes. The third, and final round of qualifying, involved the six fastest from the second session.

"It was tough," said Kanaan after qualifying at an average speed of 103.627 mph. "I think the IndyCar Series is so competitive now that you have to give everything. When I finished the qualifying run, I was exhausted."

Will Power recovered from a slow start on Friday when he had an ill-handling car, to an outside front row starting position. Power's best lap (104.288mph) from the second round of qualifying would have out him on the pole, but he was unable to duplicate that lap in the final round. "I was a little disappointed that we didn't get the pole considering the lap time we posted in the previous session, but I'm very happy to be on the front row."

After a long night at last weekend's Homestead season opener, Justin Wilson said, "This weekend has just been great from start to finish." Wilson (103.444 mph) will start third. "I would like to have gone a tenth (of a second) quicker and got the pole but that's racing and Tony (Kanaan) obviously put a good lap in."

Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe will start fourth and fifth, respectively, with both drivers noting the strenuous nature of competing in three rounds of qualifying. "It was a race," said Castroneves. "Everyone was pushing the limit. Obviously, I went as hard as anyone."

Briscoe said, "It was hard work with a long qualifying session and a lot of laps." Although he was happy to be in the Firestone Fast Six in his first road course race with Team Penske, Briscoe noted that he was "disappointed in the last ten minutes" when his car faded at the end.

Fading can be attributed to the car's handling, tire condition or in Kanaan's case, physical condition. Kanaan, who has competed in triathlon competition, said, "If you look at my suit, I'm all wet. I had to sweat to get this one done."

Rahal Letterman Racing driver Ryan Hunter-Reay will start sixth. Hunter-Reay said the key to the race will be to "keep our nose clean. It's our first street race of the season so everyone's going to have a false sense of talent going into the first corner. We'll see what happens."

Dan Wheldon was the only Target Ganassi driver to graduate to the second qualifying session. He will start eighth, alongside Oriol Servia on the fourth row. Wheldon's teammate, championship points leader Scott Dixon will start 13th. "I think we would have had a lap to get us into the next segment but the yellow came out," said Dixon. "That was pretty much it. Obviously it will make things a bit more challenging for the Target car tomorrow. We'll be doing our best to pick them off one at a time."

Forecasted showers never materialized on Saturday but rain is still a possibility during the race. Isolated thunder showers moved through the area Friday night but the track was dry all day. "If Mother Nature decides to play a game with us, it will be the same for everyone," said Castroneves.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Dan Wheldon , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Ryan Briscoe , Will Power
Teams Team Penske