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Newbies Steal St. Pete Qualifying Show

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, March 10 2018

In his series debut, Robert Wickens will start from the pole in Sunday’s IndyCar race in St. Petersburg, Fla.

It was a day for fresh faces during qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Rookie Robert Wickens on Saturday earned the pole for Sunday’s season-opening  race on the street course in St. Petersburg, Fla. He will be joined up front by a couple of other drivers who are brand new to the series.

On a track slick from light rain, Wickens slipped in a lap at the end of the Fast Six – the last of three knockout qualifying rounds – to claim the pole for the 110-lap race.

Wickens’ circuit of 1 minute, 1.6643 seconds (105.085 mph) in the No. 6 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda bested seven-time St. Petersburg pole winner Will Power by less than a tenth of a second for top honors.

“I’m a little speechless,” Wickens, who is making his series debut, said. “First off, Group 1 was dry and normal. The best of the best, you know, rises to the top, and I was happy to make it through. My goal going in to today was just a top 10.”

Wickens became the first driver to win the pole position in his maiden Indy car race since Sebastien Bourdais in 2003 – also at St. Petersburg.

“If I made Fast Six at all, it would have been amazing and the fact that we topped Q2 was already a surprise. From there I’m like, well, I’m in the top 6, let’s go and have some fun and somehow we had great strategy to get out right at the end, to get a lap on the track, in my opinion, when it was probably at its best.”

All of the entries at St. Pete are running the new-look car with its universal aero kit for the first time in competition this weekend. Probably because of that, the leaderboard throughout practice was in a constantly changing. The trend continued in qualifying, as three drivers making their series debuts – Wickens, Jordan King and Matheus “Matt” Leist – advanced to the Firestone Fast Six.

King 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 from 2016 by nearly two-hundredths of a second.

“Coming into qualifying, I knew we were quick enough to get through,” said King, the 23-year-old Englishman who joined the series after three seasons in FIA Formula 2 and two as a Formula 1 reserve driver. “But still, I had to perform, and it being my first time, I was obviously putting more pressure on myself than anybody else. But then I just had to keep reminding myself that if I just do what I know I can, the rest of it will be fine.”

Power’s best lap today in the Fast Six, 1:01.7346 (104.965 mph) in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet, locked the two-time St. Pete race winner into the outside of Row 1 on the starting grid.

“I had a big mis-shift during my (best) lap where I just got stuck in gear for quite a while,” Power said. “Then when I saw how tight it was, it was like, ‘Yeah, probably lost a tenth or so there.’ But fantastic job by Wickens, first time out, to get pole.”

Leist qualified third in the No. 4 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet (1:01.7631, 104.917 mph), beating King, in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet (1:01.7633, 104.917 mph), by an eyelash.

“I think I was expecting to be like top 10,” said Leist, the 19-year-old Brazilian teaming with veteran Tony Kanaan for AJ Foyt Racing, “but definitely not top five, top six. The team just did an amazing job, and very happy for the performance throughout the whole weekend already, and looking forward to the race.”

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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Qualifying Saturday for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.8 mile Streets of St. Petersburg circuit, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (6) Robert Wickens, Honda, 01:01.6643 (105.085)
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:01.7346 (104.965)
3. (4) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 01:01.7631 (104.917)
4. (20) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 01:01.7633 (104.917)
5. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:01.8821 (104.715)
6. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:02.0385 (104.451)
7. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:00.9986 (106.232)
8. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 01:01.1191 (106.023)
9. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:01.6527 (105.105)
10. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 01:01.7213 (104.988)
11. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:04.6739 (100.195)
12. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:07.0377 (96.662)
13. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:00.4320 (107.228)
14. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:00.9587 (106.301)
15. (26) Zach Veach, Honda, 01:00.4585 (107.181)
16. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:00.9668 (106.287)
17. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:00.5009 (107.106)
18. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:01.3013 (105.707)
19. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:01.0270 (106.183)
20. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:01.3360 (105.648)
21. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 01:01.1868 (105.905)
22. (19) Zachary Claman De Melo, Honda, 01:01.8567 (104.758)
23. (32) Rene Binder, Chevrolet, 01:01.7003 (105.024)
24. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:04.0990 (101.094)

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, March 10 2018
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