Delayed by rain and local lightning strikes to qualify for the Nashville Grand Prix again by 90 minutes, street racing star Scott McLaughlin didn’t bother with a pause until the afternoon as he finally sprinted around the makeshift circuit to earn the center stage.
It was New Zealand’s second pole this year – his first on the streets of Saint Petersburg – and sixth for Team Penske out of 14 races as No. 3 Chevy turned in an unparalleled lap of 1m14.555s.
Behind him, Andretti Autosport’s only saving grace was Romain Grosjean qualifying in second place and saving what proved to be a blunder-filled qualifying session for his teammates. Grosjean’s #28 Honda (+0.1420s) wasn’t far behind McLaughlin, nor was Christian Lundgaard driver Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, who recently used to lead the team in timely testing with the #30 Honda (+0.1594s).
“Really proud of the guys and the car was great,” said McLaughlin. “It was one of those good laps.”
For Grosjean, a good start comes after five consecutive qualifying positions of 10th or worse.
“It feels really good. It feels really good,” Grosjean said. “Good job for all I have. [Andretti crew]. I am happy to be the second on the grid tomorrow.”
RLL member Lundgaard, fastest on Friday, turns into a novice who plays like a veteran in the final stages of the season.
“It was a very exciting session and we are making progress, which is important,” Hu Lundgaard said.
After Dane, the rest of the Fast Six was completed by Alex Palou somewhat away from Chip Ganassi Racing in the #10 Honda (+0.3532s), Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward at no. 5 Chevy (+0.3706s), and Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who was the only driver at the last round to pick the base tires (+0.5906).
Elsewhere, championship leader Will Power was poised to contend for first place, but after entering the runoff division and taking out a local yellow flag during a Fast 12 session, his fastest lap was given up by the rules, and in an instant, he was demoted. Sixth through eighth as O’Ward was upgraded to Fast Six.
A mistake by Andretti Devlin DeFrancesco at the start of the first qualifying round caused a red flag and he duly relegated to P25. Then Andretti’s Colton Herta formed the starting grid in an important way after crashing and setting off another red flag. With a number of Fast 12 contenders on their fastest laps, the session turned red when Herta got into the tires and stopped a minute ago. The session has not been resumed. Three of Andretti’s four drivers, including two who were expected to run in the pole – didn’t make it out of the first round.
This left Simon Pagenaud (P13), Felix Rosenqvist (P15), Angry Russian (P17), Callum Ilott (P19), and Herta (P21) with plenty of ground to make up in the 80-lap race.
“It was too ambitious for the conditions,” Herta said of the new track, which shoveled its rubber when the skies opened. “I feel bad. I screw myself up. I crushed on Rousey and maybe some other guys who were just innocent bystanders.”
A clever call from Dalton Kellette’s team to send him live on faster replacement tires paid off when Hertha’s error halted the session; With his fastest lap already in the bank, others affected by the red flag – many who chose not to turn early – were overtaken by Team AJ Foyt Racing as the Canadian got his first Fast 12 ride as he went on to take the P12.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s struggles continued in recent qualifying as Balu – his lowest-ranked driver in the championship – made it to Firestone Fast 12. Due to a fundamental lack of speed, title contender Marcus Ericsson’s streak of terrible Tour starting positions was kept. to P18; His teammate Scott Dixon leads a few points in P14.
Another bright spot came with RLL’s overall performance as boxed Jack Harvey earned a P11 start, his second best performance of the year on a road or street track, and when he was added to Graham Rahal’s series to P9 and Lundgaard’s P3, the team displays flashes of form which was expected earlier in the year.