On a day filled with surprises, Robert Wickens took the first Verizon P1 Award of the 2018 season. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver earned the pole for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with a lap of 1:01.6643 around the 1.8-mile street course.
The pole is the first for the Canadian driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series and accomplishes it in his first IndyCar start. Wickens also paced the Fast 12 session prior to earning pole, with a time of 1:00.5428.
Today’s effort by Wickens gives Schmidt Peterson Motorsports their first pole since Pocono in August 2016 with Mikhail Aleshin. This is also the first pole for the team on a street course since Simon Pagenaud started first at the first race of 2014’s doubleheader at Houston.
“It was just chaos – half wet, half dry,” said Wickens, 28. “I like those conditions a lot. As a kid my whole career, I’ve seemed to excel in that type of session, and thankfully the team and everyone on the Lucas Oil car did a great job getting us on track at the right time with the right tire, with the whole procedure.
“Thankfully, I’m starting from pole position. Way better than I ever expected my first INDYCAR race to be, but I’m definitely not complaining with it.”
Also earning a spot in the Firestone Fast Six were Team Penske’s Will Power, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Matheus Leist,Ed Carpenter Racing’s Jordan King, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.
King led the first group of the initial session with a track record time of 1:00.0476 to advance to the Fast 12.
“Coming into qualifying, I knew we were quick enough to get through,” said King, the 23-year-old Englishman who joined the Verizon IndyCar Series after three seasons in FIA Formula 2 and two as a Formula 1 reserve driver.
“But still, I had to perform, and it being my first time, I was obviously putting more pressure on myself than anybody else. But then I just had to keep reminding myself that if I just do what I know I can, the rest of it will be fine.”
Increasing rain throughout the day added a twist to qualifying on the 1.8-mile street course, as several drivers struggled to keep their cars from spinning out during the day.
The varying weather conditions created some surprises throughout the field, as three rookies will start in the top 6, each making the debut in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Chevrolet and Honda started the Universal Aero Kit era by placing three cars each in the top six.
Among several surprises at the other end of tomorrow’s grid are defending series champion Josef Newgarden and defending race winner Sebastien Bourdais. Newgarden and Bourdais did not advance out of their respective groups in qualifying and start 13th and 14th in the 110-lap race.
Sunday, the IndyCar Series will take to the track for a 30-minute warm-up (8:45 local time) before the race, which is set for a 12:40 local time green flag tomorrow.
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Image Courtesy of Chris Jones of IndyCar Media