Rookie Will Power became the first Australian to earn a front-row start in the Indy 300, edging Sebastien Bourdais to post the fastest time in yesterday's opening qualifying session for tomorrow's Champ Car race.
Power and series leader and defending race champion Bourdais traded places for much of the 35-minute qualifying session. But Power, driving for Team Australia Racing, had a time of 1 minute, 31.403 seconds with about five minutes left in the session, a speed of 177.15kph.
It's the first time a homegrown driver has been in the front row in the 15-year history of the Australian race.
"It's the best possible start to the weekend," said Power, who leads the rookie-of-the-year standings. "Now we can relax knowing we'll be in the front row [tomorrow]."
Bourdais, who can clinch his third straight series championship by finishing ninth or better tomorrow, was second in 1:31.774 and 2004 champion Bruno Junqueira third in 1:32.265.
The French driver said he had a "scary section" during the session when he scraped a tire belt on a chicane.
"I thought I was going to crash," said Bourdais. "But it ended up being my fastest lap."
A second qualifying session is scheduled today on the 4.47km temporary street course.
A.J. Allmendinger of the US, who has five wins this season, hit the wall with two minutes left in qualifying and heavily damaged his car.
Allmendinger, who finished fifth yesterday, is the only driver with a chance of catching Bourdais for the championship, but trails the French driver by 58 points with two races left.
Another Australian rookie, Ryan Briscoe, was in trouble early in qualifying, damaging his front left tire after hitting the wall.
"I was in turn two and let the car drift too wide and it nicked the front tire," said Briscoe, making his debut for RuSPORT and replacing the injured Cristiano da Matta. "Maybe I was getting too confident too early."
Briscoe was among four drivers to post no times after the first qualifying session. Katherine Legge, making her first start since a serious accident in a race a month ago in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, was originally said by Champ Car officials to be suffering from a stomach virus.
But her PKV Racing team later said Legge's car had engine problems.
Britain's Justin Wilson suffered a broken right wrist and is out of today's race and could miss the final race in Mexico City in two weeks. Former Australian champion Paul Tracy hit the wall in the morning practice session, damaging his car, and also had no time yesterday.
Drivers got an added boost -- literally -- for today's race. Champ Car officials yesterday increased the so-called "push-to-pass" turbocharger time from 60 seconds to 75, but the drivers will not be allowed to use their buttons until after the first turn.