Sunday, March 12, 2017

Morning Warm-Up: St. Petersburg 2017

Will Power is on pole position again at St. Petersburg
For the second consecutive season and the fifth time in six seasons, the first pole position of the IndyCar season has been won by Will Power. This year, the Australian did it with a lap of 1:01.0640 in the final round of IndyCar qualifying. This is Power's 45th career pole position and his seventh all-time on the streets of St. Petersburg. In his previous six pole positions, Power has a victory, two runner-up finishes, a seventh, a 16th and a did not start after concussion-like symptoms and an inner ear conditions sidelined him last year. Qualifying just 0.1579 seconds behind the Australian was Scott Dixon. This is Dixon's first front row start at St. Petersburg since starting second in 2006. Dixon went on to finish second that day and led 36 laps before being passed by Hélio Castroneves with five laps to go. Dixon has never won at St. Petersburg and he has not won from second on the grid since Homestead in 2010.

James Hinchcliffe qualified 0.2399 seconds behind Power in third position, a career best for the Canadian at St. Petersburg. This is Hinchcliffe's best starting position on a road/street circuit since last year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis when he started and finished third. Josef Newgarden will make his Team Penske debut from fourth on the grid, a career best for him at St. Petersburg. The last four Grand Prix of St. Petersburg have been won from fourth on the grid. This will be the fourth time in Newgarden's career he has started fourth. Takuma Sato makes his Andretti Autosport debut from fifth on the grid. This is the fifth consecutive year Sato has started in the top ten at St. Petersburg and the fourth time in five years he has started in the top five. Tony Kanaan rounded out the top six. He has 11 top ten finishes in 12 career starts at St. Petersburg. Kanaan has started sixth 30 previous times in his IndyCar career and he has never won from that position.

Max Chilton's first race in a Honda sees him start on the inside of row four next to his former Marussia F1 teammate Alexander Rossi. Chilton and Rossi started on the same row twice last season. In each race Chilton started better than Rossi but Rossi finished tenth both times while Chilton's best finish in those two races was 14th. Rossi matches his career best starting position on a road/street circuit, which was set at 2016 season finale at Sonoma. Row five features another pair of former teammates starting side-by-side with Charlie Kimball in ninth and Graham Rahal in tenth. This is the first time Kimball has ever started in the top ten at St. Petersburg while this is Rahal's fourth career top ten start at the event. Rahal hasn't finished in the top ten at St. Petersburg since 2010 and hasn't led a lap since his victory in 2008.

Carlos Muñoz's debut at A.J. Foyt Racing starts with him making it to the second round of qualifying and ending up 11th. In Muñoz's five previous starts from 11th on the grid, he has a podium, two top tens and two finishes of 20th or worse. Ryan Hunter-Reay rounds out row six next to his former teammate. This is Hunter-Reay's worst finish at St. Petersburg since starting 14th in 2011. Spencer Pigot will start a career best 13th in today's race. His previous best starting position was 17th and he started outside the top twenty fives times in his rookie season. Defending champion Simon Pagenaud will start on the outside of row seven. This is the third time Pagenaud has started 14th in his career. No one has won at St. Petersburg from outside the top nine. Marco Andretti and Hélio Castroneves will start on row eight. Andretti was the fastest in the first and third practice sessions this weekend. This is the first time ever Castroneves will not start in the top ten at St. Petersburg.

Mikhail Aleshin will start 17th. Last year, Aleshin went from 17th at St. Petersburg to fifth. Ed Jones will make his IndyCar debut from 18th on the grid. All four of Dale Coyne Racing's top ten finishes at St. Petersburg were achieved by Justin Wilson. Only twice has any other Coyne driver finished in the top fifteen in this race, including Conor Daly finishing 13th last year. JR Hildebrand's full-time IndyCar return sees him start 19th, his second best career starting position in his four St. Petersburg appearances. Thirty-eight of Hildebrand's 46 IndyCar starts have come with him starting outside the top ten and he has started outside the top fifteen on 23 occasions. Conor Daly's A.J. Foyt Racing debut is nine positions worse than his teammate in 20th. He started 20th last year at St. Petersburg and finished 13th. Sébastien Bourdais started 21st, last on the grid, after he made contact with the wall, damaging his wing and causing a red flag. This will be the 11th time in 163 starts Bourdais has started outside the top twenty.

ABC's coverage of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will begin at 12:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 110 laps.