Will Power’s dominance on the streets of St. Petersburg continued Saturday as he secured pole for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg despite brushing the wall during Round 2. However, the car suffered no damage, and his fastest lap was just over the 1:00 mark, and came in at 1:01.064. It is Power’s seventh pole in eight years at St. Petersburg. He noted afterward that a decision to make one run in the first round helped set him up for later rounds. “It takes obviously a very good team and kind of getting through that first round there,taking the risk on just doing one lap was good for me, I definitely had a bit more meat on the tires in the last round there.”
Power also explained that and the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske group nearly went the wrong with chassis adjustments and had to backtrack before their pole run. “(We) made a bit of a wrong setup change there for the last round and kind of just made it and went back and did something else. So yeah, very happy to be on pole. It’s really tight competition.”
Power was one of only two Chevrolets to make the Firestone Fast Six, the other being his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, who qualified fourth.
The other four slots went to Honda teams, who continued to show the strong pace they demonstrated in all three practice sessions. Scott Dixon led the Honda contingent in second, with James Hinchcliffe in third. Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan qualified fifth and sixth. This marked the first time in the manufacturer aero kit era Honda has done so; Honda’s best effort in the Firestone Fast Six last year was at the IndyCar Grand Prix when Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal and Jack Hawksworth all made it.
Dixon later explained that a crucial error on his part might have cost him the pole. “I think the team and Honda did the job. I just did not. I made a pretty big mistake on my first lap, which definitely disappointed, and we had a pretty smooth weekend. The car was super fast and came up short, but it’s qualifying. Hopefully tomorrow I can redeem myself and we can snap up an extra spot, but good round for the weekend, especially for the whole team.”
Honda’s strength was not the only surprise in qualifying. A number of high-profile drivers who had been running quickly failed to make it out of Round 1 of qualifying. Chief among them, Team Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud, sporting the No. 1 as the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion, and Helio Castroneves failed to advance to round two. They will start 14th and 16th. “Well, we’re certainly disappointed, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to pack up and go home,” Pagenaud asserted after qualifying. “The PPG Chevrolet team and I will go to work and figure out how we can improve. They are the best in the business. We have our work cut out for us, but once the race starts, all sorts of things can happen.”
Also failing to advance was Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti, who was fastest in opening practice on Friday and noted that he and team overcompensated for an oversteer issue when they ran on the primary black tires. Andretti will start 15th.
Two drivers made contact with the wall during qualifying, ending their sessions prematurely. Sebastien Bourdais speared off course entering turn 13 on his out lap during Round 1, an incident that caused a red flag and parked Bourdais for the session. He will start 21st. Meanwhile, Ryan Hunter-Reay flirted with the wall several times before eventually brushing it in Round 2. It did not stop the session, but Hunter-Reay ‘s car was damaged enough that he did not continue. He will start 12th on Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s a rundown of times and notes from Saturday at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, as all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder had their first day of testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A link to Friday’s notebook is here.
Drivers and teams alike have raved about the pace, and the rather loud sound, of the new Tatuus PM-18 Mazda. Reports from private testing had the new car rather close to Indy Lights pace at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and rather quicker than the old car at Road America. The first tangible evidence of that occurred today as all 10 of the Pro Mazda drivers who got representative laps (second BN Racing car of Leonard Hoogenboom ran only a few laps in session four after engine issues all day) supplanted the Pro Mazda lap record at IMS – 1:22.8800 by Pato O’Ward in 2016 – easily. Oliver Askew’s best time of 1:19.8920 in the second session was nearly a full three seconds quicker on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
Of the 11 Pro Mazda drivers that ran today, only Carlos Cunha, Robert Megennis, Nikita Lastochkin, Kris Wright and Sting Ray Robb ran in the 2017 season. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any or all five of them running full-time in 2018 for what would be each of their second seasons in the championship, as returning sophomores along with what should be a glut of strong rookies. Wright, who also races sports cars, looks poised to add a second program of some other series to a planned Pro Mazda full season.
Megennis is planning to test with other teams in the weeks to come, as he tests for Juncos this week after racing in USF2000 with Pelfrey the last two years. Both he and Robb missed portions of sessions today with new car issues.
Several Indy Lights spins and off-course excursions occurred but none produced any serious issues. Rinus Veekay and Anthony Martin were among those to test the course limits but kept on going unharmed. Veekay had a spin in session three on new tires, then promptly laid down the fastest lap of the session for Belardi later on.
His teammate this weekend, Nico Jamin, wound up with the fastest lap of the day in Indy Lights – although he wasn’t quickest in the cool evening session, the fourth of the day, when most of the field ran some sticker tire runs on their Cooper tires.
Pro Mazda title combatants Victor Franzoni (Juncos) and Anthony Martin (Andretti) made their Indy Lights test debuts. The perpetually happy Franzoni wrote on Instagram, “Awesome day!! We finished the day in P3!! The most import we learned a lot!! Tomorrow will be even better!!” Martin, meanwhile, said this: “It’s obviously a new car – bigger, faster and a lot more downforce, so I’m adapting to it and growing up to it nice and slowly. You don’t want to push yourself too early, so we’re working up to a few things. You have to do things a lot quicker and you have to use a lot more brake pressure.”
In USF2000, it was an excellent day at the office for Pabst Racing with Andres Gutierrez – who impressed in a pair of weekends with DE Force Racing this year – leading three of four sessions, while teammates Hunter McElrea and Lucas Kohl were also in the top-five. Pabst has been busy running cars in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda this weekend.
Beyond Pabst, Newman Wachs Racing also had an excellent day, mainly with sophomore Darren Keane and Californian rookie Jake Craig. Keane, who’s coached by Ozz Negri, led the fourth and final session of the day, and stands as a driver who could make a big leap forward in performance if he secures a full season in 2018.
Another team of note today was BN Racing, with Callan O’Keefe – Keane’s teammate when both drove for Team BENIK at this race weekend last May – second best on the day. The South African is poised to be that team’s lead driver next season. Teammates Elliott Finlayson and Zoey Edenholm are working towards seasons of their own; Finlayson having coming off a recent Super Sweep in SCCA Runoffs competition at IMS last month and Edenholm having only just graduated from karts into cars just this month.
While the USF2000 field was primarily rookie-dominated, two-year series veteran Aaron Telitz made a cameo return today with RJB Motorsports, and brought the ex-ArmsUp chassis its best pace yet in RJB’s hands as the Wisconsinite ran with Mirl Swan and Alex Barron’s crew support. Past RJB driver and two-time Team USA Scholarship, Michai Stephens, was also on site today.
Speaking of ArmsUp, its top rookie from 2017, Devin Wojcik was on hand today making the rounds as well, although wasn’t in a car. He looks to return to USF2000 for a second season in 2018.
USF2000 boasted some good diversity with Pabst, BN, Newman Wachs, Exclusive, Pelfrey, BENIK and RJB teams in the top 10 today, but there’s one notable omission: Cape Motorsports. The seven-time defending champions in the series are not testing in USF2000 this weekend, and has just a single Pro Mazda car on site for Oliver Askew. Granted, the team is also at Circuit of The Americas this weekend for F4 U.S. Championship action, where Kyle Kirkwood has taken that series’ championship. DE Force, which also ran in USF2000 this year, is also not here this weekend as it’s at COTA. ArmsUp isn’t here this weekend either.