Anything can happen during the last 100 laps of the NTT IndyCar season, and, for the three drivers who are fighting to earn the final $1 million Leaders Circle contract, Saturday’s qualifying session at St. Petersburg was a reminder of how wild the race to avoid being last has been.
Sebastien Bourdais’ debut with A.J. Foyt Racing at the Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader was among the most fruitless events in his nearly 20 years of Indy car racing. Holding 22nd in the entrants’ championship, distant finishes of 21st and 18th on the IMS road course did little to help move the No. 14 Chevy off the Leaders Circle bubble. But a stellar performance in St. Pete qualifying (photo above) means he’ll start seventh for Sunday’s Firestone GP and, with a finish somewhere near his starting position, a Leaders Circle contract should be headed to the Foyt team.
Six points ahead of Bourdais’ No. 14 Chevy in the entrants’ race is Conor Daly, who holds 21st in the No. 20 Chevy. A decent qualifying run left the Ed Carpenter Racing driver 14th on the grid, which opens up the possibility of swapping Leader Circle positions with the Foyt car if they reach the checkered flag close to where they started. But whether he’s 21st or 22nd, the No. 20 Chevy would still earn that invaluable $1 million payout next season from IndyCar.
The one driver who needed a strong qualifying run to improve his odds of overtaking the No. 14 and No. 20 was Marco Andretti, whose No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco & Curb Honda is 23rd in entrants’ point, and on the wrong side of capturing a Leaders Circle contract.
Trailing the No. 14 by seven points, Andretti qualified 23rd, and will need to motor past Bourdais in the race, or hope the Foyt entry to falls out early in the contest to compensate for starting next to last.