Will Power wins Verizon P1 award at St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Will Power earned his fourth consecutive pole for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg -- and the inaugural Verizon P1 Award. While that might have been an even-money bet, the Firestone Fast Six lineup and the remainder of the how the starting order for the season opener shook out was a bit surprising.

"Good start to the year," said Power, who moved ahead of Dario Franchitti for eighth on the all-time Indy car list with 30 earned poles. "I thought qualifying was going to be very tight. It’s very tight on new tires but we made a few changes for the last run and it was good to see some new people up there.

"It's always like that in IndyCar. You can never predict what's going to happen. We don't know who is going to win, but that is the excitement of it. (We've) never had so much depth in the field of drivers."

Click it: Qualifying results for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Power posted a best lap of 1 minute, 1.2070 seconds in the 10-minute Firestone Fast Six session that culminated the three rounds of knockout qualifications for the IZOD IndyCar Series race on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit. It bested his 2012 pole lap (1:01.3727).

Here are the new faces who will start toward the front of the grid:

• Takuma Sato, competing for his third team in the past three seasons and making his 50th series start, will start on the front row for the first time since Edmonton in 2011 (with KV Racing Technology). Driving the Honda-powered No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing, he tied Mike Conway (Baltimore 2012) for the team's best qualifying effort since July 1999 (Billy Boat won pole at Atlanta).

deSilvestro to start 3rd at St. Pete• Simona de Silvestro, entering her fourth IZOD IndyCar Series season and making her first start for KV Racing Technology and with Chevrolet power, qualified for her first Firestone Fast Six and will start on the inside of Row 2. It's a career best (previous best of seventh in 2010 at Edmonton).

"It's really cool to finally get the results we wanted," a beaming de Silvestro said. "Thanks to KV Racing Technology for giving me the opportunity. And the whole Nuclear Clean Air Energy campaign to be supporting me after the year we had last year. It's unbelievable."

• Tristan Vautier, the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champion, kicking off his IZOD IndyCar Series career with a Firestone Fast Six appearance and starting sixth in the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car. He won the Firestone Indy Lights and Star Mazda races at St. Petersburg the past two years.

"Obviously, this one will is a little bit tougher," he said.

Five different teams are represented on the first three rows of the grid for the 110-lap race (noon ET March 24 on NBC Sports Network).

James Hinchcliffe, driving the No. 27 GoDaddy.com car for Andretti Autosport, will start fourth (same as last year), while three-time and defending race winner Helio Castroneves will start fifth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske car.

And here are some other surprises:

• Included in missing the final round were four-time series champion Franchitti, reigning champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2008 race winner and '09 pole sitter Graham Rahal, three-time race runner-up Scott Dixon (starting 20th) and Sebastien Bourdais, who started from the pole in the inaugural race on the St. Petersburg circuit in 2003 (starting 21st).

"As usual it’s tight. If you miss it by a hair, you’re going to be on the outside looking in (of the Firestone Fast Six)," said Hunter-Reay, who qualified and finished third last March. "Eighth is in the top 10; we can start from there and still race for the win. Optimistic about that, just disappointed that we didn’t get the DHL Chevy into the top six."

Added Justin Wilson, driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America/Sonny's Bar-B-Q car who missed advancing to the second round by .0217 of a second: "Anything can happen in this long race."

In the past 20 years, 12 drivers have won the season opener and went on to claim the championship.

Added Charlie Kimball, who will start 14th in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing car: "The field is so competitive, I think it’s going to be about strategy, running smart laps and getting the fuel mileage you need in the race."