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Team Penske driver Will Power of Australia races out of the pit area on his way to a first place to gain pole position during the qualification race at the Honda Indy Toronto, July 9, 2011. (MARK BLINCH)
Team Penske driver Will Power of Australia races out of the pit area on his way to a first place to gain pole position during the qualification race at the Honda Indy Toronto, July 9, 2011. (MARK BLINCH)

Will Power secures Indy Toronto pole Add to ...

Defending Honda Indy Toronto champion Will Power of Australia benefited from switch of strategists in the pits in getting his 21st IndyCar pole start on a bumpy Exhibition Place street course Saturday.

With Penske Racing president Tim Cindric calling the shots and replacing John Erickson, the 30-year-old Power went around the 2.84 km circuit in 59.5771 seconds to take the prime position at the front of 26 cars Sunday.

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He edged out New Zealander Scott Dixon (59.6646) and Scotland's Dario Franchitti (59.9000), a three-time winner this season who will start right behind Power, as the Aussie tries to close up a 20-point gap in the year-long standing. Englishman Mike Conway qualified fourth, Graham Rahal fifth, on the 25th anniversary of his father Bobby's inaugural Indy win in Toronto, and Spain's Oriol Servia sixth to round out the final qualifiers.

Alex Tagliani of Lachenaie, Que., was the fastest of three Canadians and will start ninth on the grid for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Top rookie James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., will start 13th for Sprott Newman/Haas Racing and two-time winner Paul Tracy of Toronto will drive Dragon Racing's Make-A-Wish car 24th.

"It's been an easy transition," said Power of the change in strategists. Tim is a pretty smart guy. I think they just made that move to have him oversee the crew because we've had a few problems in the pits... Just having him there, I think he'll have a better idea if anything needs to change or if we just need to get some small details right."

It's the eighth pole in a row on street courses for Power, who has earned the pole position in 15 of his past 33 starts over the past two years.

This one, he had to earn it through three gruelling rounds on the 11-turn Exhibition Place circuit. He had his quick lap of 59.5771 seconds with three minutes left in the 10-minute qualifying session and won $10,000 as a pole award for the 85-lap race.

"I've never won a pole here in Toronto and I love this place. When you turn a fast lap here, you're really just exhausted," he said of the physical challenge of alternating thuds onto concrete and asphalt surfaces.

"You really need to wring (the car's) neck out there and that's what I love about it."

He said he didn't expect anyone to go faster than the lap he's already posted.

"Obviously the weekend's been extremely fast. I thing the pole was 61.1 last year (Englishman Justin Wilson was faster than that yesterday but will start 11th).

"It's great to be on pole here, but this is a track where you can really pass a lot of cars and move forward from the back."

Dixon, driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, will start on the front row for the second time this season. Franchitti, in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing will share Row 2 with Andretti Autosport's Conway. Franchitti set the track record of 59.3535 seconds in earlier qualifying.

"For us to make the top six is a huge achievement because you look at the people that are surrounding us here, it's the best of the best," said Rahal.

"Certainly this series is so competitive right now, you're finding hundredths of a second to move in and out of one group."

Hinchcliffe missed on advancing to the second round by 0.0250 of a second.

Switzerland's Simona De Silvestro qualified 17th in the field of 26. The 22-year-old native of Thun made Toronto her comeback from injury. She missed the oval race in Iowa in late June because of post-concussion symptoms suffered June 17 in crash in qualifying in Milwaukee. IndyCar director of medical services Dr. Michael Olinger cleared De Silvestro to resume racing activities.

She also burned both hands during a spectacular practice crash at the Indianapolis 500, a year after being rookie of the year at the historic Brickyard.

De Silvestro, who is driving the No. 78 car labelled Nuclear Clean Air Energy for HVM Racing, has two top-10 finishes this year - fourth at the season's opener in St. Petersburg and ninth at Barber in Alabama. She sits 18th in the points standings with 117.

She stepped up to IndyCars from Formula Atlantic where she spent 2007 to 2009. She was the first woman in that series to have earned the most wins, pole positions, and led the most laps in 2009. De Silvestro spent her early career honing her racing skills in Europe.

NOTES -- Drivers will have 15 total pushes of the Honda overtake assist - an ECU software alteration by Honda Performance Development - each lasting 16 seconds. It is activated by the driver via a button on the steering wheel and provides an extra 200 RPM (about 10 horsepower) to the Honda Indy V-8 engine. There is a 10-second recovery period between pushes. One overtake assist push is available for the final practice session Sunday..

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Each entry for the Honda Indy Toronto receives six sets (24 total) of Firestone Firehawk primary tires (blacks) and three sets (12 total) of Firestone Firehawk alternate tires (reds) for the race weekend. The primary tires are new for this year, and will also be used at Baltimore. The alternate is the same alternate tire used previously this season on the streets of Long Beach. A new rain tire compound is being used, starting at Toronto.

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Newman/Haas Racing is the only team to have participated in all 25 Indy car races on the streets of Toronto, and has won seven (Sebastien Bourdais 2004; Cristiano da Matta 2002; Michael Andretti 2000, 1995, 1992, 1991, 1989). It also has secured five poles (Bourdais 2004, 2005, 2007; da Matta 2002; Andretti 1991) and has earned 16 podium finishes.

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