EDMONTON - Japanese driver Takuma Sato will start from the pole at Sunday's Edmonton Indy, but all eyes will likely be beside him as Will Power served notice his feud with series leader Dario Franchitti is not over.
Sato, the 34 year old from Tokyo, drove the 13-turn, 2.2-mile road course at the City Centre Airport in one minute 18.5165 seconds Saturday at an average speed of 101.97 miles per hour.
That was five-hundredths of a second faster than Team Penske driver Power, who will start beside him on the front row for the race.
Scott Dixon will start on the inside of the second row beside Franchitti, his teammate at Target Chip Ganassi.
It's the second pole of the year for Sato, who drives the No. 5 Dallara-Honda for KV Racing Technology-Lotus. He took pole in Iowa a month ago, but finished 19th.
"It's a very special moment for me and for the team as well," said Sato.
He said the field was wide open in qualifying given that the drivers were on a new track and that their first practice sessions were wiped out by heavy rains Friday.
"The conditions today were tricky as everyone couldn't run yesterday and we had only two (practice) sessions (today). But I was comfortable," he said.
Sato now just needs to translate the strong start into a good finish.
He has four top-10 finishes in 10 races but has never placed higher than fifth.
Power, the 30-year-old Australian from Toowoomba, just missed grabbing his sixth pole of the year.
"Takuma did a fantastic job," said Power. "It's pretty tough to keep a (pole) streak like that going every week, to get everything just absolutely right."
The finish means Power will start right in front of Franchitti, two weeks after the two collided at the Toronto Indy.
The collision sent Power spinning and out of contention while Franchitti drove to victory to extend his lead over Power in the championship points race to 55.
It's not a big lead given there can be as much as a 43-point swing in any race. But with eight races to go, Power has little margin for error remaining if he wants to stop Franchitti from winning a third-consecutive championship.
The hit occurred when Franchitti was trying to pass Power on the inside near a concrete barrier in Toronto.
The Scotsman said Power was too far over in the middle of the track and not respecting the no-blocking rules. IndyCar officials agreed with Franchitti and did not penalize him.
Power, however, said he was indeed far enough over, and that Franchitti recklessly tried to pass him, causing his car's nose to turn into Power's wheel and send him out of contention.
After the race, Power publicly labelled Franchitti a "dirty" driver. In interviews 10 days later he still questioned Franchitti's tactics and ethics.
On Saturday, the two sat side-by-side on the podium to answer reporters' questions after qualifying. They didn't talk or look at each other.
What about having Dario on your gearbox at the starting line Sunday? Power was asked.
"Yeah, well, being on the outside, it's up to the guys on the inside to give you room," he said in what seemed to be a clear shot at Franchitti.
"I'm hoping for a clean start. It's a long race. We all want to finish."
Franchitti stared straight ahead and stayed silent during Power's answer.
Among the Canadians, rookie James Hinchcliffe of Toronto, is the closest to the front, starting 10th on the 26-car grid.
He said he was figuring out the new circuit, but still has a lot to learn.
"If you're starting in the top 10, you're not completely lost," he said.
Hinchcliffe has a golden opportunity to make up ground on fellow rookie J.R. Hildebrand in the points race for top rookie.
Hildebrand is 35 points up on Hinchcliffe but is starting 24th, on the second last row, in the grid.
Alex Tagliani of Lachenaie, Que., and Paul Tracy of Toronto both struggled in the first round of qualifying and have a lot of ground to make up.
Tagliani, who has won two poles this year, will start 17th while Tracy is on the back row at 25th.