ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Sort out the mechanical grip (cornering grip level attributable to suspension and tires), dial in the optimal downforce provided by the new aerodynamic bodywork and get favorable atmospheric conditions and you have the makings of a track record lap time.
The Verizon P1 Award, secured in the Firestone Fast Six, is the primary goal during qualifications for the March 29 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Breaking Sebastien Bourdais’ 12-year-old track record in the process doesn’t pay anything on top of the $10,000 for the pole, but it’s distinction to carry for at least a year.
Based on the two practice sessions on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit, the record lap time may tumble multiple times in qualifying (4:15 p.m. ET). Watch the three rounds of qualifications live on indycar.com augmented by real-time Timing & Scoring and the IMS Radio Network broadcast.
Click it: Qualifying groups || Pre-qualifying practice results || March 27 practice results
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power, who won the 2014 season-opening race at St. Pete, recorded the quickest lap of the 24-car field at 1 minute, 01.4709 seconds in the March 27 session. That bettered Takuma Sato’s pole-winning lap from last March by four-tenths of a second. In fact, four other drivers posted lower lap times – without benefit of added grip of the Firestone Firehawk alternate tires that they’ll be allowed to use in qualifications.
Power also topped the time chart in the second on-track session at 1:01.3621. Team Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud (1:01.4835) was second and Helio Castroneves (1:01.5092) was third. Sato was the quickest driver among the Honda contingent (1:01.5119).
The track record is 1:00.928 (106.710 mph) set in qualifying for the inaugural Indy car race in 2003 in a different type of car (Lola chassis, 2.65-liter, turbocharged V-8 Ford-Cosworth engine producing 800 horsepower at 13,000 RPM).
"The engine has been really well developed by Chevy. We’ve done a tremendous job during the winter of setting up and making it how I want it to feel in my car," said Panenaud, who is making his race debut with Team Penske. "A lot of people expect really high results out of this first race. But we have to be reasonable in the way we think about things. It may take longer than (Power) because we haven’t been together before. We should be patient. We are there on pace and are fast enough. If everything stays smooth, we should be up there."
The Chevrolet and Honda road/street and short oval aero kits, which were designed to produce on-track performance gains in tandem with the 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines, received high marks in their competition debut.
“Racing, first of all, is all about innovation and development and that’s what we have with the aero kits,” Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay said. “The engine manufacturers have been tasked to put on as much downforce as efficiently as possible, and what you’ve see is a complete transformation of this IndyCar where Chevy has its own look and brand and Honda has its own look and brand and stamp on the car.
“The performance is up, track records will be broken this year, and they look like you need to wear protective gloves around them, so they look awesome. They look like they should, which is incredibly fast and somewhat scary.”