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Tough day for big names in St. Pete qualifying

Mar 23, 2013, 6:00 PM EDT

Honda Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg - Day 2 Getty Images

While the likes of Takuma Sato, Simona de Silvestro and Tristan Vautier made the Firestone Fast Six, and Dragon Racing’s Sebastian Saavedra surprised with a solid ninth place qualifying effort, some of the biggest names in IndyCar will need some help to produce a good result in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing failed to get either of its two cars into the Firestone Fast Six at St. Petersburg for the second consecutive year. Dario Franchitti clocked in 10th with Scott Dixon unable to better 20th on the 25-car grid.

“We have just been a bit behind in getting the Target cars up to speed here this weekend for some reason,” said Dixon. “I keep finding myself fighting understeer in the car.”

Dixon has traditionally had poor luck at St. Pete; despite three runner-up finishes since 2005, Dixon has failed to finish better than 16th in four of the last five years. Franchitti won at St. Pete in 2011.

The frustration with Honda’s lack of pace, compared to Chevrolet, appears palpable in the Honda camps. Ganassi told the AP’s Jenna Fryer that Honda “has some work to do, but I think they know that.”

Justin Wilson and Charlie Kimball just missed advancing from the first qualifying session in either of their two groups.

Some fellow strugglers from the Honda camp included both Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entries (Graham Rahal 15th, James Jakes 18th), a pair of 2012 IndyCar rookies in Josef Newgarden (16th) and Simon Pagenaud (19th) and Bryan Herta Autosport’s Alex Tagliani, who in the team’s first St. Pete race with Honda (they raced a Lotus the first three races of 2012), lines up 17th.

The biggest name from the Chevrolet camp knocked out in Q1 was Saavedra’s Dragon teammate Sebastien Bourdais, who has been off pace all weekend in his adopted American hometown. Bourdais, who made his American open-wheel racing debut in the 2003 Champ Car race in St. Pete, lines up 21st.

Whether any of the above drivers opt for an off-sequence strategy for what should be a three-stop race remains to be seen.

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