IndyCar championship leader Scott Dixon was pipped to pole position for the final race of the season at Sonoma by Ryan Hunter-Reay.
The Andretti driver jumped Dixon right at the end of the session, denying the Chip Ganassi Racing man the chance to extend his points lead to 30 over Alexander Rossi.
Dixon had been top after the first flying laps with a time of 1m17.7599 seconds before Hunter-Reay found an extra tenth of a second for his first pole since Long Beach in 2014.
Reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden qualified third and is an outsider for the title. He needs to win the race, lead more laps than anyone else and hope Rossi finishes below ninth and Dixon lower than 22nd.
Marco Andretti was fourth ahead of a stunning IndyCar qualifying debut performance from Patricio O’Ward.
The Indy Lights champion qualified for the Fast Six, after two slight errors in the earlier segment, and banked just the one lap before climbing out of his car.
O’Ward is the first IndyCar debutant to qualify inside the top six in his first event since Robert Wickens, Jordan King and Matheus Leist did so at the season-opening St Petersburg round earlier this year.
Dixon’s biggest title threat in Rossi qualified sixth having opted for the strategic call of qualifying on the slower black-walled tyres.
Tyre degradation is likely to become a key part of the strategy and Rossi’s spare set of quicker red-striped tyres could be a key advantage.
Penske’s Will Power – an outside title contender requiring the same permutations as Newgarden – qualified seventh, his worst position of the year, ahead of team-mate Simon Pagenaud.
Graham Rahal and Andretti’s Zach Veach completed the top 10 ahead of Sebastien Bourdais and Takuma Sato.
Dale Coyne Racing’s Pietro Fittipaldi was 13th ahead of Ganassi’s Ed Jones.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe finished 15th in front of Michael Shank Racing-affiliated team-mate Jack Harvey.
Newly re-signed Spencer Pigot took 17th for Ed Carpenter Racing.
AJ Foyt Racing’s road course struggles continued with Tony Kanaan in 18th and team-mate Matheus Leist down in 23rd, with Kanaan set for his 300th Indycar start in tomorrow’s race.
O’Ward’s Harding team-mate and 2018 Indy Lights title rival Colton Herta was 19th ahead of Santino Ferrucci.
Carlin’s Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball had difficult sessions in 21st and 24th respectively, with Jordan King behind the latter in the last place.
|1||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||1m17.6277s|
|2||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||0.1322s|
|3||Josef Newgarden||Team Penske||0.1660s|
|4||Marco Andretti||Andretti Herta||0.1722s|
|5||Patricio O’Ward||Harding Racing||0.3460s|
|6||Alexander Rossi||Andretti Autosport||0.3742s|