Sunday, March 13, 2016

Morning Warm-Up: St. Petersburg 2016

New year, same pole-sitter. Will Power starts first at St. Petersburg
For the second consecutive season, Team Penske has swept the first two rows for the first round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. Will Power won his 43rd career pole position and broke the track record again. The Australian won the pole position with a lap of 60.2450 seconds, over four-tenths faster than the record he set last year but his fastest lap occurred in the second round of qualifying when he ran a 60.0658. However, Will Power will miss the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg due to a stomach illness. Oriol Servià will drive the #12 Chevrolet and drove the car in the warm-up session. Servià will go to the rear of the field.

Simon Pagenaud will start second and he was 0.1971 seconds off his teammates pole position winning time as the French looks for his first victory with Team Penske. Three-time St. Petersburg winner Hélio Castroneves and last year's winner Juan Pablo Montoya will start third and fourth. Power, Pagenaud, Castroneves and Montoya started first through fourth last year. The last three St. Petersburg races have been won from fourth on the grid.

Scott Dixon made it a clean sweep of the top five for Chevrolet and was 0.2945 seconds behind Power. Dixon has three runner-up finishes at St. Petersburg. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the top Honda qualifier and his best lap in the qualifying session was a 60.5530, which came in the second round.  Hunter-Reay has three top tens in the last four St. Petersburg races. Graham Rahal missed out on the third round of qualifying by 0.0363 seconds. This is Rahal's best start at St. Petersburg since he won his first career pole position their in 2009. Rahal is the only American to win in IndyCar at St. Petersburg. Sébastien Bourdais will start eighth, right next to his former Newman-Haas teammate. Last year, Bourdais scored his first top ten at St. Petersburg in his fifth start on the Floridian streets. He finished sixth.

James Hinchcliffe's IndyCar return will start from ninth on the grid. This is his third top ten start in five St. Petersburg appearances. Jack Hawksworth rounded out the top ten. This is the first time Hawksworth has qualified in the top ten since he started third at Belle Isle I in 2014, his sixth career start. Five times, Hawksworth has qualified in the top ten and four of those came in his first six starts. He started eighth last year at New Orleans but that field was set by points. Takuma Sato will start 11th. Sato had made it to the final round of qualifying in the last three St. Petersburg races. Sato's first top five came at St. Petersburg in 2011. Josef Newgarden joins Sato on row six. He finished 12th last year after starting tenth.

Carlos Muñoz will start 13th after finishing 13th in the championship last year. Charlie Kimball will join Muñoz on row seven. Kimball has never started better than 13th at St. Petersburg. Birthday boy Marco Andretti will start right behind his Andretti Autosport teammate in 15th. Andretti has never finished in the top ten at St. Petersburg in an even-number year. His best finish in an even-number year at St. Petersburg is 12th and three times he has finished outside the top twenty. Should Andretti win, he would be the tenth driver to win on their birthday. Luca Filippi makes his Dale Coyne Racing debut from the 16th position. Last year, Filippi went from 19th to ninth in his debut for CFH Racing.

Max Chilton makes his IndyCar debut from 17th on grid with Mikhail Aleshin starting 18th. Chilton finished 12th after an accident and fourth last year at St. Petersburg in Indy Lights. Alehsin's lone St. Petersburg start came in 2014 and he started 15th and finished 12th. Alexander Rossi will start behind his former teammate Max Chilton from the 19th position. Rossi finished 14th in his Formula One debut last year in Singapore. He also finished third in his GP2 debut in 2013 from Bahrain. Tony Kanaan rounds out the top twenty. This is Kanaan's worst start since Houston 1 in 2014, where he started 22nd. Three times has Kanaan won from outside the top ten and the furthest back was 15th at Iowa in 2010. A victory would tie Kanaan with Al Unser, Jr., Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon for most victories when starting outside the top ten.

Conor Daly and Spencer Pigot make it an all-American, all-rookie final row. Daly won at St. Petersburg in then-Star Mazda in 2010 and finished second in Indy Lights at the track in 2011. Pigot finished third last year in both St. Petersburg Indy Lights races.

The 2016 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg can be seen at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC with green flag scheduled for 12:52 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 110 laps.