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Because this is the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix—held on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park—it was incumbent on Chevy drivers to get their licks in early and often.
Firestone Fast Six knockout qualifying, however, doesn't always go to script. With cool but sunny skies at the Detroit River-adjacent site, it was perfect weather for quick laps.And quick laps are exactly the order of the day.
While Friday afternoon's fastest in practice, Chevrolet's Will Power, led his group in the first round of Firestone Fast Six knockout qualifying, Scott Dixon broke free for Honda in his group, leading rookie Simon Pagenaud (Honda), Ryan Hunter-Reay (Chevy), Justin Wilson (Honda), Sebastien Bourdais (Chevy) and Takuma Sato (Honda) into the second round of 12. From Power's group, Alex Tagliani (Honda), Graham Rahal (Honda), EJ Viso (Chevy), Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe, both with Chevy power.
In the second round of 12, Power, Dixon, Tagliani, Pagenaud, Viso and Hunter-Reay advanced to Firestone Fast Six, giving Chevrolet and Honda three each in the final knockout round, just as the engine competitors had six each in the second round, a sign of parity.
The final 10 minutes of qualifying saw volleys between the two top drivers, Power and Dixon trading top spot right through to the checkered flags, where Dixon, the 2008 polesitter here emerged with the top lap at 1:10.316 to Power's 1:10.321, breaking Chevrolet's hold on pole positions after five in a row, including Ryan Briscoe's Indianapolis pole.
Regrettably for Chevy, James Hinchcliffe didn't make the Firestone Fast Six for the first time this year, as he had in the first four road/street course contests of the 2012 season, slowed after tagging the concrete barrier. On the same note for Honda, Graham Rahal's fine seventh place result in qualifying relegates him to 17th, thanks to an early engine change in Indianapolis.
After edging Power by little more than four-thousandths of a second to claim his second Belle Isle pole position, Dixon said, "Qualifying on the pole here is definitely very important," as the 2.07-mile circuit doesn't allow for passing. "This is one of the toughest tracks we have in terms of providing passing opportunities so starting at the front is critical. It's a fun track but it was crazy out there - crazy. It was a pretty close session so you had to keep pushing all the way through."
Power expects Sunday's race to be one of strategic plays. "The car was loose in the last segment, the Fast Six but it was just the absolute," the three-time 2012 winner said. "You go out every weekend to win, so if you know you've got a 50-50 move on, you usually don't go for it," Power admitted. "You've just got to be smart, see how things play out. I just race the way I race, which is to win - so that means not trying to do anything stupid."