Aaron Telitz extended his streak of winning a pole position on the 1.8-mile streets of St. Petersburg to three, with an authoritative performance in first qualifying for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season opener.

Telitz, in the No. 9 Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda, progressively improved throughout the 30-minute session to an ultimate best time of 1:05.1279. The third of three laps he turned in the 1:05.1 bracket set a new track record, the third of the day for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. This eclipsed the mark set by Ed Jones in 2015 at 1:05.3193.

For Telitz, starting on pole here isn’t new. He did so in race two in Pro Mazda in 2016, and in race one in Indy Lights here last year. He promptly won both events. This is his first Indy Lights pole since that season opener a year ago, and he enters this weekend having been the most recent series winner over the last six months – the 2017 Watkins Glen season finale.

“I think it’s the first race of the season… you could put it anywhere and I want to do well. I love St. Pete… I think it’s the best city in Florida,” Telitz deadpanned when talking to TSO Ladder after the session.

“We’re going to try to qualify on pole again tomorrow, then in the afternoon get a clean start. I know some guys got a run on me last year. Turn 1, the key is getting through cleanly,” he added.

“I think the new pavement in the back section is showing more dividends than in years past, I think. To be honest I thought it would get even faster from practice to qualifying. We had used tires in the first session and were still in the (1:05) fives.”

Indeed Telitz’s fastest laps came after the Indy Lights field came in and switched onto sets of new Cooper Tires roughly halfway through the session..

Pato O’Ward, Telitz’s former teammate in Pro Mazda and like Telitz, a past Pro Mazda race winner at St. Petersburg, will line up second in his first race for his return to the championship. He was second in race two here last year with Team Pelfrey, and will look to go one spot better in his debut with Andretti Autosport.

Only once in the six prior Dallara IL-15 Mazda races at St. Petersburg has the polesitter not won. That came in the first race of 2016, when Kyle Kaiser grabbed the pole and Felix Serralles won the race. Otherwise, all of Telitz, Jones, Colton Herta and Felix Rosenqvist have all converted poles into race wins.

“Yeah, we didn’t find the extra tenth and a half we needed,” O’Ward told Ryan Myrehn of the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network.

“I’m pretty satisfied and help us improve in the race. It’s a totally different monster. We’ll get down in the debriefing room. They have a little extra speed on us.”

O’Ward’s best lap time of 1:05.286 was also under Jones’ old track record, but not enough to supplant the Wisconsin native on pole.

Herta made it to third in the Andretti Steinbrenner Racing entry, with Santi Urrutia fourth in the repaired second Belardi car and series debutante Victor Franzoni completing the top five in Juncos’ lone car.

Ryan Norman in sixth and the Team Pelfrey pair of Shelby Blackstock and Neil Alberico were next, all still within a second of pole. Dalton Kellett rounds out the field.

By starting this race, Blackstock seeks to extend his mark as the only driver in Indy Lights to have started every one in the history with the Dallara IL-15 chassis. Saturday will mark Blackstock’s 51st start, but coincidentally his first in a car not numbered 51 – he’ll be in Pelfrey’s No. 3 car, which has finished second in a race at St. Petersburg each of the last two years (O’Ward last year, Scott Hargrove in 2016).

Indy Lights qualifies for its second race from 8:30 to 9 a.m. tomorrow, then has its first race of the season just after 1 p.m. at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires Qualifying #1 timesheet

P No Name Team FTime Diff Laps
1 9 Aaron Telitz Belardi Auto Racing 1:05.128 –.—- 22
2 27 Pato O’Ward Andretti Autosport 1:05.286 0.1578 23
3 98 Colton Herta Andretti Steinbrenner Racing 1:05.353 0.2246 23
4 5 Santi Urrutia Belardi Auto Racing 1:05.465 0.3369 20
5 23 Victor Franzoni Juncos Racing 1:05.625 0.4973 20
6 48 Ryan Norman Andretti Autosport 1:05.886 0.7577 21
7 3 Shelby Blackstock Team Pelfrey 1:06.025 0.8966 20
8 2 Neil Alberico Team Pelfrey 1:06.042 0.9139 21
9 28 Dalton Kellett Andretti Autosport 1:06.757 1.6291 23

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