Updated: 03/30/2014 08:57 | By Agence France-Presse

Sato seizes St. Pete IndyCar pole

Japan's Takuma Sato claimed the first pole position of the 2014 IndyCar season on Saturday in qualifying for Sunday's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Sato seizes St. Pete IndyCar pole

Takuma Sato of Japan qualifies for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29, 2014 in Florida - by Chris Trotman

After drivers waited out thunderstorms that delayed action for three hours, they then coped with the changing conditions from a wet to dry track as qualifying progressed.

The forecast for Sunday's 110-lap race, the first of 18 races on the series' 2014 slate, is favorable.

"I'm just happy to start on the pole," a beaming Sato said after his fastest lap of 1min 1.8686sec on the 1.8-mile (three kilometer), 14-turn temporary street circuit.

His quick lap put him in front of Brazil's Tony Kanaan, American Ryan Hunter-Reay, Australian Will Power, reigning IndyCar champ Scott Dixon of New Zealand and American Marco Andretti in the "Fast Six" final phase of qualifying.

Sato notched his fourth career IndyCar pole.

His victory at last year's race in Long Beach, California made the former Formula One driver the first Japanese pilot to win an IndyCar race.

Kanaan had a strong start in his first qualifying effort with Ganassi Racing, posting a fastest lap .2951sec behind Sato's.

“Although this is not even half of the battle because this is qualifying, front row -- man it feels pretty good," he said.

Juan Pablo Montoya's debut with Team Penske, in his return to open-wheel racing from a stint in NASCAR stock car racing, didn't go as well. The Colombian will start 18th.

Sunday's race will mark the first time in five races here that Power won't start from pole position.

The Aussie had posted the fastest qualifying time each of the past four years but will start fourth alongside Hunter-Reay.

Canada's James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport won last year's race by 1.0982 seconds over three-time race winner Helio Castroneves of Brazil.

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