St. Petersburg Qualifying Report
The top two teams were represented in the Firestone Fast Six on Saturday, but like in Brazil – there was more diversity than most of last season. Yes, Penske had two cars while Ganassi had one, but there were also two Andretti Autosport cars, as well as one Dreyer & Reinbold car.
Will Power added a point to his lead in the standings by snagging the Pole for Sunday’s race. Tony Kanaan showed he is serious about shaking the gremlins from last season and will start alongside Power on the front row. Scott Dixon and Justin Wilson make up the second row, while Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti will start fifth and sixth respectively.
The biggest surprise came after the first group completed their first round. That was when we learned that Ryan Briscoe and Dario Franchitti had failed to transfer to the next round. Briscoe will start nineteenth while Franchitti will roll off from the thirteenth starting spot.
Ryan Hunter-Reay barely missed making the Firestone Fast Six, and will start seventh. Alongside Hunter-Reay is what I think is shaping up to be THE story of this young season – the rapid rise of Fazzt Racing with Alex Tagliani. His showing this weekend proved that São Paulo was no fluke and that he will be a force to be reckoned with all season – at least on the non-ovals.
Besides Franchitti and Briscoe falling short of expectations, some of the bigger disappointments in qualifying were Vitor Meira (seventeenth), Mario Moraes (twentieth), Danica Patrick (twenty-first), Alex Lloyd (twenty-second) and Rafa Matos (twenty-third). Milka Duno starting in the twenty-fourth spot does not qualify as a disappointment.
Another major disappointment was Graham Rahal in Sarah Fisher’s Dollar General car. Given Rahal’s success on the track, you would have expected more from him this weekend. I don’t know if it is a commentary on his rustiness or the state of Sarah’s team. I like to think that her team is capable of more than that, but the fact that most of us pull so hard for her may cloud our perception of reality. This may be all this team is capable of at this point – no matter who is in the cockpit.
Common logic would say to put your money on Will Power. It makes sense and I can’t go against it. But I also know that this track can be a great equalizer and it is also supposed to be raining by the green flag. Aside from Danica, I look for a very strong day from the Andretti Autosport stable. Ryan Hunter-Reay almost won this race last year. Kanaan looks like he’s back and Marco wants to atone for Brazil.
I also think we’ll see the two Ganassi cars with unimpressive results for the second race in a row. With two cars starting in the top-ten, one would think that Dreyer & Reinbold should be poised for a good day. I’ll also keep my eye on Simona de Silvestro. She impressed me two weeks ago and I think she opened a lot of eyes. I’ll be curious to see how she fares on a track that most drivers are familiar with.
In its short history, this race has been one of the more entertaining street races. For all of the potential viewers on ABC, let’s hope that holds true again this year.