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In motorsports, the pole position is the position at the inside of the front row at the start of a racing event. This position is typically given to the vehicle and driver with the best qualifying time in the trials before the race (the leader in the starting grid). This number-one qualifying driver is referred to as the pole sitter.
Grid position is typically determined by a qualifying session prior to the race, where race participants compete to ascend to the number 1 grid slot, the driver, pilot, or rider having recorded fastest qualification time awarded the advantage of the number 1 grid slot (i.e., the pole-position) ahead of all other vehicles for the start of the race.
Historically, the fastest qualifier was not necessarily the designated pole-sitter. Different sanctioning bodies in motor sport employ different qualifying formats in designating who starts from pole position. Often, a starting grid is derived either by current rank in the championship, or based on finishing position of a previous race. In particularly important events where multiple qualification attempts spanned several days, the qualification result was segmented or staggered, by which session a driver qualified, or by which particular day a driver set his qualification time, only drivers having qualified on the initial day eligible for pole position. In a phenomenon known as race rigging, where race promoters or sanctioning bodies invert their starting grid for the purpose of entertainment value (e.g., pack racing; to artificially stimulate passing), the slowest qualifier would be designated as pole-sitter.
In contrast to contemporary motorsport, where only a race participant is designated pole-sitter, prior to World War II, the pace car was designated as the official pole-sitter for the Indianapolis 500.
Originally in Grand Prix racing, grid positions, including pole, were determined by lottery among the drivers. Prior to the inception of the Formula One World Championship, the first instance of grid positions being determined by qualifying times was at the 1933 Monaco Grand Prix. Since then, the FIA have introduced many different qualifying systems to Formula One. From the long-standing system of one session on each of Friday and Saturday, to the current knockout-style qualifying leaving 10 out of 20 drivers to battle for pole, there have been many changes to qualifying systems. Between 1996 and 2006, the FIA made 6 significant changes to the qualifying procedure, each with the intention of making the battle for pole more interesting to viewers at home.
Traditionally, pole was always occupied by the fastest driver due to low-fuel qualifying. The race-fuel qualifying era between 2003 and 2009 briefly changed this. Despite the changing formats, drivers attempting pole were required between 2003 and 2009 to do qualifying laps with the fuel they would use to start the race the next day. An underfuelled slower car and driver would therefore be able to take pole ahead of a better but heavier-fueled car. In this situation, pole was not always advantageous to have in the race as the under-fueled driver would have to pit for more fuel before their rivals. With the race refueling ban introduced, low-fuel qualifying returned and these strategy decisions are no longer in play.
Also, when Formula One enforced the 107% rule between 1996 and 2002, a driver's pole time might affect slower cars also posting times for qualifying, as cars that could not get within 107% of the pole time were not allowed start the race unless the stewards decided otherwise. Since the reintroduction of the rule in 2011, this only applies to the quickest time in the first session of qualifying (Q1) and not the pole time.
Pole position trophy
From 2014, the FIA awarded a trophy to the driver who won the most pole positions in a season. In 2018, the FIA Pole Trophy was renamed to the Pirelli Pole Position Award, with the polesitter at each race winning a Pirelli wind tunnel tyre with the name of the polesitter and their time. The driver with the most pole positions at the end of the season wins a full-size engraved Formula 1 tyre.
|2014||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||F1 W05 Hybrid||11|
|2015||Lewis Hamilton (WC)||Mercedes||F1 W06 Hybrid||11|
|2016||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||F1 W07 Hybrid||12|
|2017||Lewis Hamilton (WC)||Mercedes||F1 W08 EQ Power+||11|
|2018||Lewis Hamilton (WC)||Mercedes||F1 W09 EQ Power+||11|
(WC) indicates that the driver won the World Championship in the same season.
IndyCar uses four formats for qualifying: one for most oval tracks, one for Iowa Speedway, one for the Indianapolis 500, and another for road and street circuits. Oval qualifying is almost like the Indianapolis 500, with two laps, instead of four, averaged together with one attempt, although with just one session.
At Iowa, each car takes one qualifying lap, and the top six cars advance to the feature race for the pole position. Positions from 7th onward are assigned to their races, based on time, with cars in the odd-numbered finishing order starting in one race, and cars in the even-numbered finishing order starting in the second race. The finishing order for the odd-numbered race starts on the inside, starting in Row 6 (11th), and even-numbered race on the outside based on finishing position, again from Row 6 (12th), except for the top two in each race, which start in the inside and outside, respectively (Row 4 and 5) of the race for the pole position. The result of the feature race determines positions 1–10. All three races are 50 laps.
On road and street courses, cars are drawn randomly into two qualifying groups. After each group has one twenty-minute session, the top six cars from each group qualify for a second session. The cars that finished seventh or worse are lined up by their times, with the best of these times starting 13th. The twelve remaining cars run a 15-minute session, after which the top six cars move on to a final 10-minute session to determine positions one through six on the grid.
The Iowa format was instituted in 2012 with major modifications (times set based on open qualifying session in second practice, positions 11th and back in odd positions raced in the inside heat, positions 12th and back in even positions raced in the outside heat, and positions 1–10 raced for the pole, each heat 30 laps), and non-Iowa oval format in August 2010, while the Indianapolis format was in 2010. The road course format was installed for 2008. In prior seasons, oval qualifying ran for four laps, Indianapolis-style, from 2008, and previously two laps with the best lap used for qualification. Street and road circuits used a two-phase format similar to oval qualifying except that cars took one qualifying lap, then the top six advanced to the ten-minute session for the pole.
The pole position for the Indianapolis 500 is determined on the first day (or first full round) of time trials. Cars run four consecutive laps (10 miles), and the total elapsed time on the four laps determines the positioning. The fastest car on the first day of time trials wins the pole position. Times recorded in earlier days (rounds) start ahead of subsequent days (rounds). A driver could record a time faster than that of the pole winner on a subsequent day; however, he will be required to line up behind the previous day(s)' qualifiers.
Starting in 2010, the first day is split into Q1 and Q2. At the end of Q1, positions 10–24 are set. The top nine cars will then have their times wiped out and advance to Q2 where cars will have 90 minutes to run for pole. If inclement weather causes officials to cancel Q2, positions 1–24 are set. If inclement weather in Q1 is early where Q2 is late (past 6 PM usually), drivers will have only one attempt in Q2.
Grand Prix motorcycle racing
Since 2006, there has been one hour-long session on Saturday where the riders have an unlimited number of laps to record a fast lap time. Simply, the rider with the fastest lap gains pole position for the race.
In 2013 a new format was introduced whereby qualifying is conducted over two 15-minute sessions labelled Q1 and Q2. The fastest 10 riders over combined practice times advance automatically to Q2, while the rest of the field compete in Q1. At the conclusion of Q1 the fastest 2 riders progress to Q2 with a chance to further improve their grid position
Top ten riders in Grand Prix motorcycle racing with most pole positions
- As of 19 October 2019
|Bold||Rider still competing in Grand Prix motorcycle racing as of the 2019 season|
Before 2001, NASCAR used a two-day qualifying format in its national series. Before 2002 only one lap was run on oval tracks except short tracks and restrictor plate tracks. Until 2014, the pole position has been determined by a two-lap time trial (one lap on road courses) with the faster lap time used as the driver's qualifying speed. In 2014, NASCAR used a knockout qualifying format for all races except the Daytona 500, non-points races, and the Camping World Truck Series' Eldora Dirt Derby: after a 25-minute session (on tracks longer than 1.25 miles (2.01 km); tracks shorter than 1.25 miles have a 30-minute session), the 24 fastest cars advance to a ten-minute session, with the top 12 advancing to a final five-minute session. Starting in 2003, if a driver's team changed their car's engine after the qualifying segment was over, the car would be relegated to the rear of the 43-car field. In the case of multiple teams changing engines on the same weekend after a qualifying segment (although this is a rare occurrence), qualifying times from that segment are used to determine the starting order for those cars.
In the Eldora Dirt Derby, practice runs are held, which determine the starting grids for five heat races of eight laps each. The top five fastest qualifiers started on pole for each heat, and the winner of the first heat is awarded the pole for the feature race.
Top ten most Cup Series pole positions
- As of 23 February 2019
|Bold||Driver still competing in the Cup Series as of the 2019 season|
Top ten most Xfinity Series pole positions
- As of 23 February 2019
|Bold||Driver still competing in the Xfinity Series as of the 2019 season|
Top ten most Truck Series pole positions
- As of 23 February 2019
|Bold||Driver still competing in the Truck Series as of the 2019 season|
|3||Ron Hornaday Jr.||27|
In radio-controlled car racing, the term Top Qualifier (TQ) is used to determine the fastest qualifying driver, usually over a two-day, five/six rounds qualifying sessions, depending on the overall duration of the event. The result is determined by the best half of the driver's performance. As the event bring in over 100 entrants, the fastest driver is guaranteed directly a place in front of the A-main final, the group that carries a chance of being the overall winner. The slower drivers are allocated a spot to compete in their groups to determine the overall positions.
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