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starting box on racetrack, with checkered starting and finishing line in front
Pole position markings at the Nürburgring in Germany

In a motorsports race, the pole position is usually the best and "statistically the most advantageous" starting position on the track.[1] The pole position is usually earned by the driver with the best qualifying times in the trials before the race. The number-one qualifying driver is also referred to as the pole-sitter. The pole position starts the race "at the front of the starting grid. This provides the driver in the pole position the privilege of starting ahead of all the other drivers".[1]

Grid position is typically determined by a qualifying session before 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 were eligible for pole position. Some 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.[2][failed verification]

In contrast to contemporary motorsport, where only a race participant is designated pole-sitter, before World War II, the pace car was designated as the official pole-sitter for the Indianapolis 500.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Martin's record-breaking pole position! 💥 | 2023 #SanMarinoGP
  • Euro Trophy Round 4 - Juniors - Race 20 Heat 5 A-D



The term has its origins in horse racing, in which the fastest qualifying horse would be placed on the inside part of the course, next to the pole.[2]

Formula One

Originally in Grand Prix racing, grid positions, including pole, were determined by lottery among the drivers.[3] Before 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.[4]

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.[4][5] 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.[5]

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 One tyre.[6]

Year Winner Team Chassis Pole positions
2014 Germany Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes F1 W05 Hybrid 11
2015 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton (WC) Germany Mercedes F1 W06 Hybrid 11
2016 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton Germany Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid 12
2017 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton (WC) Germany Mercedes F1 W08 EQ Power+ 11
2018 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton (WC) Germany Mercedes F1 W09 EQ Power+ 11
2019 Monaco Charles Leclerc Italy Ferrari SF90 7
2020 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton (WC) Germany Mercedes F1 W11 EQ Performance 10
2021 Netherlands Max Verstappen (WC) Austria Red Bull Racing RB16B 10
2022 Monaco Charles Leclerc Italy Ferrari F1-75 9

(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.

Indianapolis 500

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 competes in Q1. At the conclusion of Q1 the fastest 2 riders progress to Q2 with a chance to further improve their grid position.

In 2023 a new format was introduced where the results of qualifying set the grid for a Saturday Sprint Race as well as the Sunday Grand Prix Race. [7]

Top ten riders in Grand Prix motorcycle racing with most pole positions

As of 14 April 2023
Bold Rider still competing in Grand Prix motorcycle racing as of the 2023 season
Rider Poles
1 Spain Marc Márquez 92
2 Spain Jorge Lorenzo 69
3 Italy Valentino Rossi 65
4 Australia Mick Doohan 58
5 Italy Max Biaggi 56
6 Spain Dani Pedrosa 49
7 Australia Casey Stoner 43
8 Italy Loris Capirossi 41
9 United States Freddie Spencer 33
10 Italy Pierpaolo Bianchi 32


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.[9] 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.[10]

Top ten most Cup Series pole positions

As of 29 August 2023
Bold Driver still competing in the Cup Series as of the 2023 season
Driver Poles
1 United States Richard Petty 123
2 United States David Pearson 113
3 United States Jeff Gordon 81
4 United States Cale Yarborough 69
5 United States Bobby Allison 59
5 United States Darrell Waltrip 59
7 United States Mark Martin 56
8 United States Bill Elliott 55
9 United States Ryan Newman 51
10 United States Bobby Isaac 48

Top ten most Xfinity Series pole positions

As of 29 August 2023
Bold Driver still competing in the Xfinity Series as of the 2023 season
Driver Poles
1 United States Kyle Busch 70
2 United States Joey Logano 36
3 United States Mark Martin 30
4 United States Tommy Ellis 28
5 United States Carl Edwards 27
6 United States Kevin Harvick 25
7 United States Sam Ard 24
8 United States Jeff Green 23
9 United States David Green 22
9 United States Brad Keselowski 22

Top ten most Truck Series pole positions

As of 29 August 2023
Bold Driver still competing in the Truck Series as of the 2023 season
Driver Poles
1 United States Mike Skinner 50
2 United States Jack Sprague 32
3 United States Ron Hornaday Jr. 27
4 United States Kyle Busch 22
5 United States Mike Bliss 18
6 United States Joe Ruttman 17
7 United States Matt Crafton 16
8 United States Austin Dillon 13
9 United States Greg Biffle 12
9 United States Ted Musgrave 12


Superpole for Superbike is a timed event to establish starting positions for motorcycle racers in World Superbike races.

For 2023 a World Superbike weekend typically consists of: [12]

  • Friday – Two Free Practice sessions.
  • Saturday – Free Practice, Superpole, WorldSBK Race 1, WorldSSP300 Last Chance Race.
  • Sunday – Warm-up, WorldSBK Superpole Race, World SSP Race, WorldSBK Race 2, WorldSSP300 Race
1. The final results of the Superpole decide the grid for WorldSBK Race One and Sunday's (sprint) Superpole Race.
2. The top six finishers of the "last chance race" take the final six spots of the WorldSSP300 race starting grid.
3. The grid for WorldSBK Race 2 will be determined from the first nine positions in the Superpole Race, and the grid from 10th onwards will be the positions from Saturday's Superpole.

The format of Superpole depends on weather conditions:

  • Dry Superpole: The race director declares a 'dry' Superpole (referring to the weather conditions) then Superpole will consist of 3 laps of the circuit. Riders start one by one in reverse qualifying order. Grid position for the races will be determined by each rider's fastest single lap time.
  • Wet Superpole: If Superpole is declared 'wet', Superpole will consist of 50 minutes of timed laps, for all 15 riders together, during which a rider may complete up to 12 laps (including in and out laps). Grid position for the races will be determined by each rider's fastest single lap time. For each lap over 12 laps completed, the rider's best lap time will be cancelled.

To qualify for the race, riders must record a lap time no longer than 107% of the time recorded by the pole-position rider. Qualifying tires may be used.

Radio-controlled racing

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.[13][14][15]


  1. ^ a b "How Often Does The Pole-Sitter Win In F1?". F1 Chronicle. 2022-07-01. Retrieved 2022-10-29.
  2. ^ a b "Pole Position". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Archived from the original on April 11, 2021. Retrieved 2020-02-09.
  3. ^ "Grand Prix History – The Circuits". Retrieved 27 April 2011.
  4. ^ a b "Which qualifying system is best? (Poll)". F1 Fanatic. 4 December 2008. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Official: Real qualifying returns in 2010". F1 Fanatic. 30 April 2009. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  6. ^ "The quickest tyre of all". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  7. ^ "MotoGP sprint races: Everything you need to know". Autosport. 21 March 2023. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  8. ^ "Statistics". Retrieved 10 October 2022. Select Riders' best result, poles, all seasons, all classes, all countries, all tracks.
  9. ^ James, Brant (22 January 2014). "NASCAR sets new qualifying format". ESPN. Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  10. ^ Newton, David (April 9, 2013). "NASCAR unveils Eldora qualifying". NASCAR. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
  11. ^ "Sprint Cup Series All-Time Pole Winners & Records". Jayski's Silly Season Site. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  13. ^ "ROAR v13.0 Rules" (PDF). Retrieved 12 August 2022.
  14. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-11-01. Retrieved 2014-12-01.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-07-01. Retrieved 2015-01-02.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links

This page was last edited on 29 August 2023, at 16:51
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