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Will Power takes the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg pole for the ninth time

It was the Team Penske driver’s 62nd career IndyCar pole and fifth of the season.
IndyCar driver Will Power celebrates with his team after qualifying at the pole position during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020 in St. Petersburg.
IndyCar driver Will Power celebrates with his team after qualifying at the pole position during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Oct. 24, 2020
Updated Oct. 25, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — There’s one bit of normalcy to this year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: Will Power won the pole Saturday.

He posted a top lap of 1 minute, 1.0369 seconds for his fifth IndyCar pole of the season and his ninth career pole for the St. Petersburg race.

“It was a typical, very tough qualifying session,” Power said. “I’m really, really happy with it. I thought we played it very well, strategy-wise. Just very determined to win the race (today), I really am. I’m really going to convert that pole into a win and finish (the season) on a high.”

Related: An IndyCar season that should have started in St. Petersburg ends with Sunday’s Grand Prix

The pole win was the 62nd of his career. He is five behind the IndyCar record of 67 set by the legendary Mario Andretti.

“That would mean a lot. That would be a great achievement for me, personally,” Power said of possibly overtaking Andretti. “To be at the top of the list for that would almost sum up my career, I guess, as far as being the speed that I have, maybe not the championships, but certainly a lot of race wins as well.”

A win Sunday wouldn’t end in a championship for Power — that will be decided between Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden — but it would mean almost as much with everything the drivers have endured with the coronavirus pandemic impacting the season.

“It would be amazing to win the last race of the season,” Power said. “It would really make this year worth it.”

Related: The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is on, with a different feel

Dixon and Newgarden did not advance out of the second round of qualifying. Newgarden qualified eighth.

“We took a swing at it … and it wasn’t the right direction,” Newgarden said on the NBC broadcast. “It wasn’t clean.”

Dixon qualified 11th. He can win his sixth IndyCar championship by finishing ninth or better today. He also can clinch the title if he finishes 10th, as long as he leads at least one lap.

Related: Jimmie Johnson will make IndyCar debut in St. Petersburg next season

Joining Power on the front row will be Alexander Rossi, who posted a best lap of 1:01.1730.

Belleair resident Colton Herta qualified third. St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais qualified seventh.

Oliver Askew of Jupiter qualified 10th after a rough practice session earlier in the day. Askew crashed into the tires at Turn 13.

Scott McLaughlin ready for IndyCar debut in St. Pete

Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin makes his IndyCar debut at the Grand Prix, ending his run in the Supercars circuit. McLaughlin will compete full time in IndyCar next season.

“I’m very excited,” McLaughlin, 27, said in a video conference call Thursday. “I think it’s a great opportunity. I never thought I’d get a chance this year due to the nature of the beast with (the coronavirus), all that sort of stuff.”

McLaughlin qualified 21st in the 24-car field.

Related: Firestone extends Grand Prix of St. Petersburg title sponsorship, 2021-23 dates announced

In Saturday’s practice, McLaughlin ran into a wall of tires at Turn 13. However, he was able to back out and continue the session without damage to his No. 3 Chevrolet.

Related: How the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marked the end of the pre-pandemic era

McLaughlin, a New Zealand native living in Australia, said he has always been an IndyCar fan, specifically paying attention to Dixon.

Years back, McLaughlin went to Indianapolis for the 500 as a guest of Roger Penske. He now drives for Team Penske.

“It’s certainly been a transition that’s happened pretty fast,” McLaughlin said.

“I probably, initially, I didn’t think that Roger and Tim (Cindric, Team Penske president) would think I’d be ready for an IndyCar or sort of consider me just because of my touring-car roots and having a roof over my head. But they put the proposition to me about a year and a half ago, now. I haven’t looked back since.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.