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Rookie Robert Wickens takes St. Petersburg pole for first career IndyCar race

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Oh, Canada!

Rookie driver and Canadian native Robert Wickens overcame rain and slick track conditions during Saturday’s qualifying for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the season-opening event for the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Entered into the first IndyCar race of his career and first qualifying effort, Wickens, grabbed the pole on the last lap of qualifying for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and will start from the front after an effort of 1:01.6643.

Rookie Robert Wickens will start Sunday’s IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from the pole.

“I’m a little speechless,” Wickens said. “My goal going into today was to make top 10. It was tough … but we kept our cool, made changes for the wet and we got it. I’m super happy. I hope we can take this pole position tomorrow and get a good result.”

Added Wickens’ teammate, James Hinchcliffe, “I knew he could do it. This kid’s got talent. He proved the car’s quick. It’s the first pole of his first career in his first race. It’s just awesome. I’m real happy.”

Wickens is one of three rookies to make the Firestone Fast Six.

Will Power will start second (1:01.7346), followed by rookie Matheus Leist (1:01.7631), rookie Jordan King (1:01.7633), Takuma Sato (1:01.8821) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (1:02.0385).

“It was really unpredictable, especially the way the paint was so slippery in Turn 1,” Power said of the qualifying conditions.

Added Leist: “That’s awesome. It’s a dream come true for me. First IndyCar race, first IndyCar season. I’m so happy. The A.J. Foyt team did a great job and I’m really, really happy.”

Here’s the full final qualifying grid:

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Qualifying Notes:

* Rookie Jordan King broke Will Power’s old track record (1:00.0658) with a run of 1:00.0476 in Round 1.

* Drivers that advanced from Round 1 to Round 2 in Group 1 were:

Jordan King: 1:00.0476
Alexander Rossi: 1:00.0936
Robert Wickens: 1:00.0999
Tony Kanaan: 1:00.2828
Simon Pagenaud: 1:00.3242
Ryan Hunter-Reay: 1:00.4087

* Those that did not advance to Round 2 from Group 1 were: Josef Newgarden, Zach Veach, Ed Jones, Jack Harvey, Charlie Kimball, Rene Binder

* Drivers that advanced from Round 1 to Round 2 in Group 2 of qualifying were:

Will Power 1:00.5969
Mattheus Leist 1:00.6331
Scott Dixon 1:00.8435
James Hinchcliffe 1:00.8441
Gabby Chaves 1:00.8507
Takuma Sato 1:00.9580

* Those that did not advance to Round 2 from Group 2 were: Spencer Pigot, Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais (who started 21st and last one year ago, but then rallied to win), Graham Rahal, Max Chilton and Zachary Claman De Melo.

* In the second round of qualifying, Wickens was quickest (1:00.5428), followed by Will Power (1:00.5911), Ryan Hunter Reay, Jordan King (1:00.7305), Matheus Leist (1:00.7679) and Takuma Sato (1:00.8470).

* Failing to make the Firestone Fast Six were: Alexander Rossi (due to penalty), James Hinchcliffe, Gabby Chaves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud.

* It was somewhat surprising that Team Penske had just one driver in the top 12 (Power), while Chip Ganassi Racing also only had one (Dixon).

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There were several incidents of note throughout all three rounds of qualifying:

* Rain began to fall slightly during Group 2’s qualifying session, but it quickly stopped. However, it appeared Graham Rahal’s loop around in Turn 10 may have been due to the sprinkles.

* Rain returned a few moments later with a slight mist as the Fast 12 second round of qualifying got underway.

* Spencer Pigot and Marco Andretti were involved in an incident that Race Control was reviewing.

* Takuma Sato looped his car around in Turn 2 with about 2:45 left in the Fast 12 round of qualifying.

* Just a few moments later, Scott Dixon had to get on the brakes hard in Turn 2, but managed to keep going. Ditto for Simon Pagenaud, who spun on three consecutive laps while fighting to get into the Fast Six, costing him a chance to advance. It also brought out a red flag to end the session slightly early.

* In the Firestone Fast Six battle to earn the pole, just after Will Power almost lost it on the front stretch, Ryan Hunter Reay slid coming into Turn 1, followed by Jordan King and Takuma Sato.

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Here’s some selected driver quotes about qualifying:

James Hinchcliffe: “It went away quick (said of the conditions once the drizzle began). Once the paint gets wet, it gets incredibly slippery and we saw so many cars going off there in Turn 1. Some days you’re the windshield, some days you’re the bug. I’m happy Robby made it in, which is good for the team.”

Scott Dixon: “I guess we probably thought it was going to get drier as that session went on. It’s extremely slippery. We just misread it there. We were fast, quickest this morning, have good speed in the car. … We came here to win. I think the car is fast enough. We just have to see how we race.”

Gabby Chaves: “I would say we’re pretty happy, looking at where we started in practice yesterday. We took it very calmly, looked at the data, made the right changes and improved the car so much. … We knew with a little bit of luck and the right changes that we could make the final group and we did.”

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Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).