ST. PETERSBURG — This time last year, Will Power's victory at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the third win in his IndyCar career, helped mark him as an emerging star.
Going into today's edition of the downtown street race, he has to be called the odds-on favorite.
Power took the pole Saturday with a lap of 104.579 mph (1 minute, 1.9625 seconds) around the 14-turn course, the only driver with a lap better than 1:02.
Last March, the 30-year-old Australian won from the pole in St. Petersburg, the first of his five victories in 2010. This weekend, he led every practice but one and topped all three segments in qualifying.
He held off Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, who qualified second and third, respectively.
"Would have been a perfect day without Will, I guess," Dixon joked.
Power's Team Penske Dallara-Honda was more than three-10ths of a second faster than Franchitti in the final 10-minute, six-car session (13 cars were eliminated in the first qualifying segment, six more in the second). That's a considerable margin in a 25-car field separated by less than 2 seconds.
"It was a good session, a lot of waiting around to see what other people would do," Power said. "I'm looking forward to the race; I think these double-file restarts, if you happen to get shuffled back, it gives you an opportunity to race hard on restarts. It's going to be great for the fans."
The two-wide restarts are new to IndyCar road and street circuits, starting today.
Franchitti clipped the wall in Turn 11 and lost his rear wing in a crash in practice. He was uninjured, and his team went to work to get him back in contention in qualifying.
"It was a good recovery … because I screwed up (Saturday) morning and stuck the thing in the fence," Franchitti said. "So we're happy to get through into the (final segment)."
The two-time defending series champion cited the softer, optional Firestone tires, called "reds" for their sidewalls, as a reason for the increased speeds in qualifying from practice.
"There was so much grip, and it's a lot of fun to drive it," Franchitti said. "My bravery was kind of coming up as grip of the tire was going away because it was the second run on the tires. So I needed to be a bit braver a bit earlier."
Mike Conway, in his debut for Andretti Autosport, will start fourth. The 2009 St. Petersburg champion, Penske's Ryan Briscoe, and Justin Wilson of Dreyer & Reinbold round out the first three rows.
Power said that since last year a bump in the back straightaway, between Turns 3 and 4, has been smoothed out and the wall in Turn 11 — where Franchitti had his problem in practice — is slightly closer to the track.
"That's not really a track thing," Power said, "but if you come off, it is."
Other than that?
"Everything's the same," Power said. "It's all very good."
Just like he has been here for two years.
Jim Tomlin can be reached at email@example.com.