Wickens grabs amazing debut pole in damp session

(via — Wickens lapped the 1.8-mile runway/street course in 61.6643sec, his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda edging seven-time St. Pete polesitter Power by 0.0703sec.

Wickens was initially bottled up behind a tentative Power as the shootout began, but neither made any significant errors once they separated themselves and as the track dried, they each got to within two seconds of the typical dry-lap time here, with the Canadian earning pole with his final lap.

Barely less impressive was Matheus Leist who avoided drama, relied on great car control and earned an amazing third place for AJ Foyt Racing on his IndyCar debut. Another rookie – Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet rookie Jordan King – clocked fourth fastest after an impressive day for Ed Carpenter Racing, beating two stars in the wet, Takuma Sato in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda, and Ryan Hunter-Reay in Andretti Autosport-Honda.

It was in Q2 that the rain that was starting to sprinkle in Q1 came down harder. Wickens took full advantage to nail an early lap on reds and top the group, with Power a close second. Sato spun at Turn 1 but was able to continue and ultimately made it into the Firestone Fast Six.

Ganassi’s Scott Dixon half-spun at Turn 1 and as he rejoined the track, he obstructed James Hinchcliffe but the incident went unpunished. Neither advanced, and will start ninth and seventh respectively, separated by the Harding Racing-Chevrolet of Gabby Chaves – a remarkable performance for a team starting only its fourth race.

Penske’s Simon Pagenaud was another Turn 1 spinner – three times – and the third was the one that saw him stall and end the Q2 session with a red flag. That deleted his two fastest laps and consigned him to 12th on the grid. Alexander Rossi’s name was deleted from the Fast Six for qualifying interference which allowed Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay through.

Pagenaud’s teammate, the reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was the shock exclusion from Q1 Group 1, sliding wide on his decisive lap, while the second group saw Graham Rahal spin exiting Turn 10 on his first lap on the alternate compound. That brought out the red flag and cost him his two best laps.

Another driver to lose his two best laps from that session was Marco Andretti, who got through to the Top 12, but was then penalized for interference with the second Ed Carpenter car of Spencer Pigot. That gave Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing some hope as it allowed Sato into the top dozen from where he made it to the Fast Six.

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