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Defending champion Ryan Briscoe struggles in St. Petersburg qualifying

For the fans: Panther Racing driver and St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon signs autographs. The 2005 race and series champion starts 15th in today’s Grand Prix.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

For the fans: Panther Racing driver and St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon signs autographs. The 2005 race and series champion starts 15th in today’s Grand Prix.

Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Year by year with Pole-SITTER (finish) and race Winner (starting pos.)

2005 Bryan Herta (4) Dan Wheldon (9)

2006 Dario Franchitti (19) Helio Castroneves (5)

2007 Castroneves (1) Castroneves (1)

2008 Tony Kanaan (3) Graham Rahal (9)

2009 Graham Rahal (7) Ryan Briscoe (4)

2010 Will Power

ST. PETERSBURG — Defending champion Ryan Briscoe, a teammate of pole winner Will Power and Helio Castroneves, qualified a disappointing 19th in the 24-car field for today's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

It's his lowest starting spot on a road/street course in his IndyCar series career. The reason? He started out on the red tires then went to the blacks, the opposite strategy from his teammates and from the six fastest qualifiers.

"The track got quite a bit quicker, and we needed to be on the reds at the end of the (qualifying) session," he said. "It's a bit disappointing as the Team Penske car has been fast all weekend and we have a good car for the race, we're going to be starting from farther back than we should be."

When he won the race last year, he started from the fourth spot.

"We'll be all right," Briscoe said. "I have a great crew and the best race strategist (Roger Penske) there is. We just have to avoid any first-lap accidents and we should have a solid race."

Other notable drivers who will need to recover from a less-than-optimum starting position include:

Dario Franchitti, the 2009 IndyCar series champ who is 13th, his lowest road/street course grid position since he was 21st in 2005 at Infineon Raceway. He missed out on the Fast Six round of qualifying for the first time in 14 races (five in 2007 when the program started, seven in 2009, then the opener in Brazil two weeks ago). He had a minor crash during a Friday practice session.

"We had a good run, and the car didn't slow down at all," he said. "Briscoe had some problems of his own, and I caught him in Turn 8 and got held up. That was unfortunate. The guys made some great changes to the car and we were pretty quick after the crash in practice."

Dan Wheldon, the St. Petersburg resident who won this race in 2005, qualified 15th.

"You know, (that's) sometimes how it goes," he said. "But I think we have a really good race car and, as anybody knows, anything can happen on these street courses."

Graham Rahal, who earned the pole last year and won the race in 2008 as a rookie, is 16th. He said he and the folks at Sarah Fisher Racing will look for answers to a problem he has encountered with the car's inability to grip the road.

"We're going to bounce ideas off each other," he said. "I've tried to give all the ideas of all the things I remember from years past and nothing is working. The car reacts so little to every change we make. I've run out of ideas. … No matter how hard I push, it's not there."

Danica Patrick qualified 21st but said her car is "stronger" than her starting position might indicate "so hopefully we have a result that shows just that."

What a difference a year makes: Castroneves would not have missed last year's race, a race he had won in 2006 and 2007, were it not for tax evasion charges.

A jury acquitted him in April, leading the star of Team Penske to return for the rest of the Indy Racing League season, including a win in the Indianapolis 500.

"It's great to be back," he said Saturday afternoon after qualifying fifth for today's race. "It's great to see the fans. … First of all, it's a beautiful city, a beautiful place. As you can see, the people from here really enjoy having the … series here."

Defending champion Ryan Briscoe struggles in St. Petersburg qualifying 03/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 27, 2010 10:28pm]
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