(An updated story with driver reaction will follow.)
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Saturday, March 10, 2018) – The unpredictability of the Verizon IndyCar Series reached a new level in Verizon P1 Award qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, with rookie Robert Wickens snatching top honors in his debut event.
On a slick track with light rain falling, Wickens slipped in a lap at the end of the Firestone Fast Six – the last of three knockout qualifying rounds – to claim the pole position for Sunday’s 110-lap race that kicks off the 2018 season. Wickens’ circuit of 1 minute, 1.6643 seconds (105.085 mph) in the No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda bested seven-time St. Petersburg pole winner Will Power by less than a tenth of a second for top honors.
FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG: Unofficial qualifying results
Wickens became the first Indy car driver to win the pole position in his first race since Sebastien Bourdais in 2003 – also at St. Petersburg.
With all Verizon IndyCar Series entries running the new-look car with its universal aero kit for the first time in competition, the leaderboard throughout practice this weekend was in a constant state of flux. The trend continued in qualifying, as three drivers each making their series debut – Wickens, Jordan King and Matheus “Matt” Leist – advanced to the Firestone Fast Six.
King, in fact, set the new lap record for the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course in the first round of qualifying with a lap of 1:00.0476 (107.914 mph), eclipsing Power’s old standard set in 2016 by nearly two-hundredths of a second.
Power’s best lap today in the Firestone Fast Six was 1:01.7346 (104.965 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, locking him into the outside of Row 1 on the starting grid. Leist qualified third in the No. 4 AJ Foyt Racing ABC Supply Chevrolet (1:06.7631), beating fellow rookie King, in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet (1:06.7633) by an eyelash.
Takuma Sato, the 2014 St. Pete pole sitter, was fifth in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1:01.8821), with Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay sixth in the No. 28 DHL Honda (1:02.0385).
Two of Hunter-Reay’s teammates failed to advance from earlier qualifying rounds when they were penalized for qualifying interference. Marco Andretti (No. 98 Ruoff Home Mortgage/Curb Honda) would have advanced from the first round and Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) would have moved on from Round 2, but both had their fastest two laps negated by penalty and could not advance by rule.
Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon saw his string of qualifying for the Firestone Fast Six in nine straight events come to an end. Dixon will start ninth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Sebastien Bourdais, the 2017 St. Petersburg race winner, will go off 14th in the No. 18 SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. Graham Rahal will start last in the 24-car field after being penalized his two best laps for causing a stoppage of his session when his car stopped in the Turn 1 runoff.
A final 30-minute warmup practice is scheduled for 8:45 a.m. ET Sunday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Live race coverage begins at noon on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and 12:30 p.m. on ABC.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the first of 17 races on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.