Out-performing one car in particular made the feat a little more special.
"To be honest, it doesn't get any sweeter ... you grow up as a Rahal and you're meant to want to to beat the Andrettis," said a smiling Rahal, who has now supplanted Marco Andretti as the IndyCar Series' youngest pole sitter. "That's just how it works and vice versa. If you think of the two big names in open-wheel racing, those are them."
Last year, Rahal, son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, erased Andretti from the record books when he won at St. Pete as a 19-year-old and became the series' youngest race winner. But he hasn't won since and judging by his chart-topping showing in practice Friday and his qualifying run Saturday in the McDonald's-sponsored Honda, Rahal returns a very motivated young man.
"To be honest, beating Marco is a great thing, it's always nice," Rahal said of the friendly rivalry. "But to be on pole you've got to beat everybody and that's what's more important to me. I want to go out there and win races."
One of Rahal's biggest obstacles to a second straight win here will be the driver starting alongside him, Justin Wilson -- a highly-regarded driver who was Rahal's teammate at Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing last season.
Wilson's inspired -- and inspiring -- front row qualifying effort is the best ever for his new team, Dale Coyne Racing, which has never won an IndyCar race. And it is strong vindication for a driver who finished runner-up in the Champ Car championship twice and won an IndyCar race last year -- only to find himself without a job as recently as February.
"It was a long off-season and now to get back in a car and prove to everyone that I can still do this, it means a lot," Wilson said. "Obviously I'd like to translate it into a podium finish tomorrow, but we'll take this small victory and just try and build from that."
Last year's pole-sitter Tony Kanaan, who has never finished worse than third in this race, will roll off third on the grid. Penske Racing is the only team to have two cars among the top six qualifiers with Ryan Briscoe starting fourth and Will Power rolling off sixth.
Dario Franchitti, the 2007 series champ who competed in NASCAR last year, returns to the IndyCar Series with a fifth place starting position.
Franchitti's Target Ganassi teammate, the series defending champ Scott Dixon, qualified eighth. Danica Patrick qualified 15th and her Andretti Green teammate, Marco Andretti, was 18th fastest.
As proud as Rahal is to add to his family's impressive legacy, he will trying for a second victory without his father trackside on Sunday. After watching his BMW team compete in the American Le Mans Series Saturday afternoon, new father Bobby Rahal returned home to Ohio -- as he had previously planned -- to be with his wife and three-week-old baby.
Graham will still have lots of family support -- his mother, sister and uncle are in town to watch him defend his title and his dad is throwing a huge race-watching party at his home.
"It's been exciting having them all here and being able to do this in front of them," Rahal said.
"It's a been a trip for sure."
The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be televised live on VERSUS at 2 PM ET on Sunday.