Ryan Hunter-Reay bounced back from a rough opening day at Edmonton on Saturday with a pole-winning run that surprised the IndyCar Series points leader.
Because Hunter-Reay went into the qualifying session knowing he'll be penalized 10 spots on Sunday's starting grid for an unapproved engine change, his Andretti Autosport team gambled on using older tires when rain began to fall midway through the qualifying session. The tire choice was based on Hunter-Reay hoping to start between 11th and 14th after the penalty.
"We worked really hard to come to the decision to go to the used reds (tires)," he said. "Instead we went and got the pole, so double bonus."
Hunter-Reay has won the past three IndyCar races to move into the points lead. He's the first American since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 to lead the IndyCar standings, and he takes a 34-point lead over Will Power into Sunday's race.
The Andretti Autosport driver had a rough Friday at Edmonton, where he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for running James Jakes wide on the course during the first practice session. Then IndyCar said he'd be penalized for changing his Chevrolet engine, which is not allowed this year under new series rules before an engine has run 1,850 miles.
But he bounced back with a strong qualifying run that snapped Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti's string of three consecutive poles. Franchitti, in a Honda, qualified second but will start first on Sunday because of Hunter-Reay's penalty.
Ryan Briscoe qualified third and was followed by Takuma Sato, Alex Tagliani and Helio Castroneves.
It was a different Fast Six field, as Power and Scott Dixon, who sit second and fourth in the standings, both failed to advance to the final round. Power was knocked out by Penske Racing teammate Ryan Briscoe in the final seconds of the second round.
Rain began to fall at Edmonton at the conclusion of Group 2, and it changed the strategies for the 12 drivers in the second round. Power said the rain and driver error contributed to his poor qualifying run.
"Everyone went out on wets and the track was kind of sprinkled with water," he said. "Made a mistake in (Turn) one, and that was it, that was just foolish of me not to know that."
But, he'll start sixth on Sunday — five spots ahead of Hunter-Reay. Both drivers have won three consecutive races this year, with Power's three wins coming in the first month of the season. Power said he knows what he needs on Sunday to move closer to re-claiming the points lead he lost to Hunter-Reay after Toronto two weeks ago.
"We've just got to have a good day," he said. "Just bad day after bad day after bad day — gotta have a good result."