Series St. Pete qualifying report

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IZOD IndyCar Series press release

POWER BREAKS TRACK RECORD, WINS POLE FOR HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST PETERSBURG

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Saturday, March 24, 2012) - Will Power says claiming the pole for the eighth Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is a "good start," which he hopes six months down the road will lead to a championship finish.

Pole winner Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet
Pole winner Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Power set a circuit-qualifying record of 1 minute, 1.3721 seconds in winning the pole for the IZOD IndyCar Series' season-opening race March 25.

Power has started from the pole in the race on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit for three consecutive years. He won in 2010 and was runner-up to Dario Franchitti in 2011.

Ryan Briscoe will start alongside his Team Penske teammate on the front row, while Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe will occupy Row 2. It's the best start in the race for all three (Hinchcliffe didn't compete in 2011).

Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud qualified fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Firestone Fast Six. But because Pagenaud's Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports team made an unauthorized Honda engine change in practice a day earlier, he will be penalized 10 spots on the starting grid.

Scott Dixon, who was 0.0022 of a second out of qualifying for the Firestone Fast Six, will join Castroneves on the third row on the racetrack.

Pagenaud was fifth on the time chart in the first practice session. After Pagenaud shut off the car and guided it into the pit box in the afternoon session, general manager Rob Edwards decided to end the practice early to allow the team and Honda engineers to analyze data and prepare the car for qualifying.

Honda Performance Development engineers decided an engine change was in order, but it fell outside the parameters of an approved engine change (not meeting its mileage limit or is damaged), which triggered the penalty. Pagenaud was quickest of the 26 cars in the morning session (1:01.8929).

Also on March 24, Tristan Vautier avoided on-track issues with other competitors, handled three restarts flawlessly and went on to a 1.0391-second victory over Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammate Esteban Guerrieri. Sebastian Saavedra moved up one position to claim third place in the No. 27 Team AFS car and Oliver Webb was fourth in his series debut in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Sam Schmidt Motorsports car.

Vautier is the 10th driver to win his debut race in the series and the sixth who has won his debut at St. Petersburg (Marco Andretti, Raphael Matos, Junior Strous, J.K. Vernay and Josef Newgarden).

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES POST-QUALIFYING NOTES:

· This is Will Power's first pole of 2012 and the 25th pole of his Indy car career. He has won three consecutive poles here at St. Petersburg.

· Ryan Briscoe qualified second, his best start in six previous starts at St. Petersburg. His previous best was fourth in 2009.

· Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified third, his best start in four previous starts at St. Petersburg. His previous best was sixth in 2009.

· James Hinchcliffe qualified fourth for his first start at St. Petersburg.

· Simon Pagenaud qualified sixth for his first start at St. Petersburg, but will have a 10-grid spot penalty for Sunday's race.

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES POST QUALIFYING QUOTES:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, IZOD IndyCar Series pole winner): "I'm very happy to get the first pole for Chevy as they return to the series. I'm really happy for the Verizon Team Penske team. We worked hard over the winter. Roger (Penske) has been pretty keen on winning this championship after the last couple of years. It's a good start. It's only the beginning of the weekend. We need to have a good strategy for the race and see what comes.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Chevrolet, qualified third): "Yeah, it's certainly fun with all the engines in the new car, all the manufacturers going head to head so St. Pete always puts on a good show and we're really happy to be here. It was a good day for the DHL/Sun Drop car, we had to go to work on it this morning, we weren't really happy with it, and to see where we ended up in the end is not only a testament to the crew and the team, but always to the teamwork and the drivers sharing information and I've got to thank James and Marco also for all their input, which helped make quick cars today. We're proud of Chevy being in the top 5, it's a good way to start the season in the beginning to a long trek, but it was the right way to start off and we're looking forward. Tomorrow's the only real day that counts, and who knows what to expect, so should be exciting for the fans."

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 Team GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, qualified fourth): "I made a little bit of a mistake on my quickest lap, maybe there was a tiny bit left in there, but at the end of the day my first start here and first start of the season, it's a great way to kick it off. So big thanks to everyone at Andretti Autosport and Team GoDaddy. It's nice to be at the sharp end of the first turn in St. Pete."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Shell V-Power Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske Chevrolet, qualified fifth): "Yes, definitely the Shell VPower boys did an incredible job fixing my car for qualifying, unfortunately was having problems with communication. I couldn't understand anything on the back straight or any straight at all, I kept asking them what position am I in and what's going on, and nobody was giving any information at all. I could see they were trying to communicate but it wasn't working. So I just starting pushing and pushing as hard as you can because nobody is saying anything. So, unfortunately I went over the limit of the car and end up hitting Turn 9, and I thought it was over. And we weren't able to get in the top three, but the guys came fully focused to fix the car and rear suspension and in seven minutes they switched the entire suspension and we were able to go back there. But certainly happy for Team Penske having three cars in the top 5, and Chevrolet as well."

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt-Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda, qualified sixth): "I love street circuits. It is very intense and gets you an adrenaline rush. You're that close to the wall sometimes and sometimes you brush it. I love it. It's a combination of even more of car and driver. You really need to feel as one with your car and you need to work really hard with your engineer to get everything you need out of it. The track is fantastic. There are some fast speed corners like the back chicane, some slow speed. The infield is very nice. And you feel very close to the ground it makes it fun." (About the format): "I like the qualifying format. I think it is great. It shows the fast six and I like that the excitement keeps creeping all the way through. It is exciting for the fans and even for the driver. I wish we had another new set of tires on the last one, I think it would be even more exciting."

SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus HVM Racing Lotus): "I think qualifying could have gone a little bit better. We struggled a bit with traffic, so we'll have a long race tomorrow starting from the back. But we'll keep fighting to go forward."

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 7 Lotus Dragon Racing Lotus): "I had a very good feeling with the car this morning and we didn't touch anything. We just put the options on, made a mess of it and overdrove it. I felt good about the car overall and just don't know what happened. For some reason we just lost all stability, we lost grip. The car was pretty good on standard tires and it just went away."

JAMES JAKES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): "It wasn't the results that we were looking for today. It took us a few laps to get up to speed and then we just ran out of time. Even though we will start 20th in Sunday's race, I think the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda car will have a good finish."

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 18 Sonny's BBQ Honda): "The Sonny's BBQ car was pretty loose out there. We were sliding around a lot and it just didn't hook up like we were wanting it to. Typically over the last four or five years, with the old cars and the red-sidewalled Firestones, we'd normally have to make a couple of balance changes to get the handling right. Today we made similar changes to what we've always done, but it was way too much in the wrong direction. We'll just go back and study the data and work out what was the right call to make, because it's clear that this car reacts quite differently to the red tires. We got it wrong today, but that's how it goes sometimes. We'll make sure we get it right for tomorrow."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central Honda): "We're pretty frustrated, or at least I am. My expectations of myself and the team are very high and this just doesn't live up to it. I knew it was going to be tight, I knew it was going to be competitive but for whatever reason when we put the reds on it just didn't work for us. A lot of other teams gained a lot of time and competitiveness and it seemed to go the other way for us. It's a little bit hard and we're a little bit miffed to figure out exactly what it is but, we'll fight back tomorrow, it's going to be a long day."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "Our setup wasn't where it needed to be obviously. I don't think its by accident the Chevy guys were up there. We'll just keep our heads up and get the work done. We still have some tricks up our sleeve."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "Obviously not where we wanted to be with the Target cars in qualifying. We have some work to do but I'm confident in the team and our ability to bounce back and contend for the race win tomorrow."

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Honda): "That was a little disappointing. We didn't get the speed we expected out of the car. The temperature caught us out a little bit. I made some decent gains driving-wise and made some improvements, and now we can go work on the car some more. This place is funny; it always throws out an interesting race. But wherever we start tomorrow, we'll still have a good race. Last year there was chaos at the first corner and throughout the race, so I think we're in good shape."

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet): "It's hard to see improvement sometimes when you are near the back of the field. But we can see some with our qualifying run. We are closing the gap each session. We were on the red Firestones (tires) in practice against the fast guys on the blacks. Then, in qualifying, we were all on reds and we closed the gap. So I can see us getting better each time we run. We are taking the positive out of this and continue learning as much as possible right now. We know we are behind on track time, but we are making gains. The whole group (Ed Carpenter Racing) is working better together every day. This is a fun group to work with and I'm very proud of the effort the team is giving me. I haven't run at St. Pete since 2009 and the track really hasn't changed that much. There is definitely something different about this new car and I am learning about it with every session. You need a new driving style with this car and engine. And as a group, we are still learning. It's a little bit of trial and error right now for us due to the lacking of testing time. I would be more frustrated if we weren't improving, but that isn't the case. We are making gains each time out."

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet): "Our pace all weekend has been quite good, I think maybe we got caught out a little bit maybe expecting too much from the (Firestone Alternate) red tires. We were obviously just a couple tenths away from transferring to the next round there. It's frustrating because one of our main goals this year is to improve our road and street qualifying program and we felt like we were doing that here, but as I said, we've practiced really well and should have a good National Guard Chevy for tomorrow."

MIKE CONWAY (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "Obviously very disappointed, the red tires really didn't suit us. We went a half second slower on the reds than we did the blacks this morning so we need to get on top of that. We just need to improve overnight."

TAKUMA SATO, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda): "We made progress after the practice this morning and found some things to improve the handling of the car but we weren't able to go to the next stage of qualifying which is disappointing. The race will be interesting because it will be the first time competing together with the new racing package. We will gather data tonight to give us an idea of what to expect in race trim and will know more at the warm-up."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 GEICO/MOUSER ELECTRONICS - KV Racing Technology w/SH Chevrolet): "I am extremely happy about the whole team. We were a tenth from all three cars making the top-12 and I was less than a tenth from making it to the Firestone Fast Six. It's a pretty good start. We are not making excuses, but it is still a new team for all of us. I gathered some people from old times, but we are still trying to get a handle on everything. I don't think I have room to be upset. We missed making the Firestone Fast Six by less than a tenth of a second. It is awesome.

RUBENS BARRICHELLO (No. 8 BMC | EMBRASE - KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "I think my first qualifying session went well. I am playing catch up all the time. We unfortunately lost the morning session yesterday and I am still learning the circuit while the rest of the field is going flat out. I am pleased though, I improved this morning and today was the first time I have ever used the red (alternate) tires. I can never be pleased with 13th or 14th, but we have to set targets and my targets are high. I have done less than 50 laps on this track so far, so I have to be happy-ish with that. I am excited for tomorrow though and starting my first IndyCar race."

E.J. VISO (No. 5 CITGO/PDVSA - KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "It was a good qualifying result. We ended up 13th and possibly 12th. It was one of those qualifying sessions where you finish up and you know that you have a better car than the results showed. I think we really have a top-seven or even a top-six car. We did not expect the wind to affect the car as much as it did. It really upset the balance on what would have been my fastest lap and I ended up missing the second round by just a tenth of a second. It's okay. We have been working well as a team and we know we have potential. Tomorrow is going to be a big day and I am very excited."

ST. PETERSBURG 100 POST-RACE NOTES:

· This is Tristan Vautier's first Firestone Indy Lights victory. He is the 10th driver to win his debut race in the series and the sixth who has won his debut at St. Petersburg, joining Marco Andretti, Raphael Matos, Junior Strous, J.K. Vernay and Josef Newgarden.

· Esteban Guerrieri finished second. He finished sixth here a year ago en route to a second place finish in the series championship last year.

· Sebastian Saavedra finished third. It is his second podium finish here in St. Petersburg. He finished second in Race 2 in 2009.

ST. PETERSBURG 100 POST-RACEQUOTES NOTES:

TRISTAN VAUTIER (No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/SSM, St. Petersburg 100 Race Winner): "I could see my mirrors were full on the last restart, I gave it all I had - what a great first day in Firestone Indy Lights! Awesome job by the Sam Schmidt guys today for all their hard work. It was great to be part of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder and what an awesome track - to win at for the first time. You're as good as your race so the win was good but we have to start all over again next weekend. I still have a lot to learn, I learned this weekend but need to keep learning. I never raced on speedways so I still have lots to learn in the Firestone Indy Lights Series. My goal is to work hard and be on top every day.

ESTEBAN GUERIERI (No. 11 Pistas Argentinas/SSM, finished second): "It's not a bad results, definitely good to be one-two for the team to start the season. It's solid points, and congratulation to Tristan that he did a very good, quite challenging race because there were a lot of safety cars and it gets tricky with the cold tires. So, I think we did a good job. Probably I was fighting a little bit of understeer in the beginning which improved a little bit in the end, and he was struggling in the rear I think, so in the end we kind of matched the pace I think. I tried to push for an overtake, maybe a mistake from his side, but he did a good jb and I'm really happy to be here, first of all, which I didn't know if I was going to be two weeks ago, and now I'm here enjoying the second place. So it's quite a good start.

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 27 Team AFS, finished third): It feels great, it's good to be back, that's the first thing that comes into my head. I really want to thank the No. 27 crew for putting the racing car together. The race was very tough, we needed to get a good qualifying session, it didn't happen, but I started fourth. There was a little bit of an issue in this first half, losing a position to Victor, but it was better than getting out of the race. From then on, we ran a good car that we used to make two good passes. It was very important points for the championship, very important points for the team, and let's focus to Barber."

OLIVER WEBB (No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, finished fourth): "I'm a bit disappointed—had good restarts until the last one, I thought I had a puncture, I was actually cautious on my first lap, I didn't want to break on the inside—Saavedra got a run on me and got by. Average start to the season, we are a winning team, winning car, winning driver—hopefully we can be too next time."

VICTOR CARBONE (No. 3 Mav TV/Nevoni/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, finished fifth): "We had a good start, went up to 4th. It took me a little bit to get up to pace and I had to defend against Saavedra all the time. I was under a lot of pressure but I managed to hold him up as much as I could until he finally passed me, and he opened up, and from there on I kind of knew that I couldn't follow the other guys, so I didn't push 100% till the end of the race. Being with the car and the team for a second season is for sure helping me. From last year we know where we need to improve. Definitely thanks to my guys for this weekend. As always they work really hard, and I strive to improve for the perfect."

SUNDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local):

6 a.m.

Garages open

8:35- 9:05 a.m.

IZOD IndyCar Series warmup

9:15 - 9:55 a.m.

USF2000 Race #2 (40 minutes)

10:05- 10:45 a.m.

Star Mazda Championship Race #2 (40 minutes0

Noon

Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg pre-race

12:30

Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (100 laps/181 miles), ABC (Live)

Bruce Jenner
Bruce Jenner

Photo by: Kenneth Barton

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Series INDYCAR
Tags chevrolet, honda, indy lights, lotus, penske, power