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Qualifying Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—In the first qualifying session of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, the ABC Supply team served notice that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Matheus "Matt" Leist, 19, qualified third in the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet in his career first IndyCar qualifying session while Tony Kanaan qualified 10th in the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet. The strong performance by the youngest driver in the field made A.J. Foyt smile and tell him afterwards, “You did a great job today! I’m proud of you.”

“I’m very happy with the whole ABC Supply team and with our performance throughout the whole weekend,” Leist said afterwards. “I’m looking forward to my first IndyCar race. It will be my first time doing pit stops, saving fuel and saving tires, so I have a lot of things to learn yet.

Giving credit to his teammate, Leist continued, "Tony is a very special guy, he’s been helping me a lot, not just inside the track but outside the track as well. And not just him, but A.J., Larry, and everyone on the team is helping me a lot because I’m a rookie. Tony is a very special guy and I’m super grateful to have him as a teammate. I grew up watching him and Helio [Castroneves], so having him as a teammate is a dream come true for me.”

Leist cinches his helmet as his race engineer Mike Colliver looks on.

En route to his impressive run in the final round, the rookie had less than two minutes in the first round to lay down just one quick lap after the session was red-flagged for an accident. He came through to advance to Round 2 where he went up against 11 other drivers, including his teammate. It had been two years (St. Petersburg in 2016) since both team cars had advanced out of the first round of qualifying.

Leist advanced out of Round 2 and despite tricky conditions in the final round when rain began to fall on the circuit, he displayed the coolness and smoothness of a veteran. He was in second until the final seconds of the session when fellow rookie Robert Wickens set his quick lap to win the pole.

Kanaan maintained his top-10 qualifying prowess at St. Petersburg—in 14 races, he has qualified 12 times in the Top-10, and six of those were in the Top-3, including the pole in 2008. His efforts were stymied today when he was blocked on his hot lap by Alexander Rossi who was penalized for the infraction. Rossi had made it to the Fast Six but he was dropped back to 12th in Round 2.

Kanaan is a perennial fan favorite.

“I am extremely happy with the team effort so far this weekend,” said Kanaan, who was there to congratulate Leist when he climbed out of the cockpit. “We came here with the intention to put two ABC Supply Racing cars in the Top-10 and we actually did one better, putting one in the Top-10 and another in the Top-3. I am looking forward to the race tomorrow.”

Wickens, 29, won the pole with a time of 1 minute, 1.6643 seconds (105.085 mph). IndyCar champion Will Power was second (105.975mph), Leist third (104.917), rookie Jordan King fourth (104.917—he was 2/1000s slower than Leist), Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato (104.715) was fifth and Ryan Hunter-Reay (104.451) rounded out the Firestone Fast Six.

(L to R) Leist, Hunter-Reay, Power, Sato and King in the post-qualifying press conference.

The race will be broadcast live on ABC-TV starting at 12:30 ET. The radio broadcast will be on Sirius XM radio on the following channels: Sirius 212, XM 209, SXM 970.

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