With all the talk this week about the bumps, tight turns and changing surfaces, the goal for every driver in Saturday's IZOD IndyCar Series three-segment qualifying race was to get as close to the front as possible, because passing could come with a cost Sunday.
Just before entering his final lap, Will Power looked at the readout on the dashboard of his Penske Dallara and knew he was a tenth of a second off the fastest time of the day. He then set off on an exciting sprint to claim the pole for Baltimore's inaugural Grand Prix.
It was his seventh pole of the season.
"That last lap was definitely a tough one," Power said. "I knew I had one lap to do it. I went out and did the timing, and I didn't think I got it. But I did. It's a good place to start."
With crowds so thick people could hardly walk along the Pratt Street front stretch — police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said organizers had told police that about 40,000 people attended Saturday — Power finished the last lap in 1:20.2447 at 91.520 mph.
That was enough to claim the pole over Chip Ganassi driver Graham Rahal, who will start on the outside of the front row after turning the second-best time of 1:20.3238 for a 91.430 mph average around the 2.03 mph temporary course that runs through the heart of the city.
Power's teammate Ryan Briscoe will start third, with Rahal's teammate, series points-leader Dario Franchitti, in fourth.
Power, 30, said he didn't know exactly where his better time came from, "it was just little tiny bits in every segment."
But Rahal, who has not had a pole this season and not has been on the front row of the starting grid since 2009, said Power's pole victory was more about what Rahal had done in his Ganassi racer than what Power did.
"You know Will is going to be there at the finish," Rahal said. "It's not an expectation, it's a fact. But I feel like I gave it away."
Power, who is just 26 points out of the IndyCar Series points lead, is known for his talent on road and street courses and has been delighting in the unknown nature of the new Baltimore track, which has revealed itself to be tricky. The tougher it is, Power keeps saying, the better it is for him.
But the course difficulty also seems to suit the 22-year-old Rahal.
"I don't know what it is," Rahal said. "I just really am enjoying this track. I fell like, so far I've been able to push a little bit harder and find a little bit more speed. I think liking it is a lot of it. I love street races. New street races, it's a pretty level playing field."
It was that confidence, and knowing Power would be charging, that inspired Rahal to keep his foot on the pedal.
"You've got to push hard," he said. "And I really had no clue what lap times I was doing, because at the start neither the dash [telemetry readouts] or the radio worked. In the second session, the dash didn't work and same with the third. That makes you push even harder. Going in to the last lap, they were trying to tell me, 'Will is on one that's just going to get you, but you're on one that's better. You're starting your lap better.'"
But that's when Rahal came to the chicane, an artificially designed series of turns that's purpose is to slow the cars coming down Pratt Street.
"I had a good one going," he said. "I had used a lap to let the tires cool off and get them back where we wanted them. And I was putting one together. Then I went into the chicane ... and locked up the right front. I kind of got through the chicane, but it wasn't pretty. I lost all our time there pretty much. I threw it away."
It will still be Rahal's best starting position this year.
"The front row is something we strive for each weekend," he said. "I'd be thrilled in either front row spot. Will's a fantastic driver with a fantastic team. I'm feeling pretty happy."
For Power, — who has 23 poles in his Indy career and will be starting on the front row for the eighth time in 15 races this season — it didn't matter who he had to edge out for the pole. He just wanted that first spot.
"I didn't know it was Graham who had the lead," Power said. "I just knew I was a tenth [of a second] down, and I put that in my head. I didn't think about who it might be. It didn't matter. It's competition, isn't it?"
Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Scharper contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun