Scott McLaughlin sent a message to the NTT IndyCar Series paddock after claiming his first pole position for Team Penske.
The New Zealander, making his third start at St. Petersburg, showed immense pace during the morning practice session that he led and went on to beat teammate Will Power — IndyCar’s current king of poles — with a lap of 59.4821s in the No. 3 Chevy. Power was close behind (59.6058s) in the No. 12 Chevy as the Bowtie locked out the front row.
“I love qualifying,” McLaughlin said. “You have to put it all on the line. I’m working really well with (race engineer) Ben Bretzman. Ben is a legend. We said we could do it. I’m really proud. I know Mom and Dad will be watching at home, so this is awesome. I have my in-laws here and I haven’t seen them in two years. I’m super proud for that. I’m so happy… I have a race tomorrow and can’t use too much energy!”
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) February 26, 2022
Behind them, Colton Herta, the most recent St. Petersburg race winner, claimed third in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (59.7104s) and had a resurgent Rinus VeeKay less than a tenth of a second behind in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Chevy (59.8102s). The top six was rounded out by two Honda-powered runners with Romain Grosjean in the No. 28 Andretti entry (59.8116s) and Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud in the No. 60 machine (1:00.2041s).
Looking beyond the happiness of the drivers in the Firestone Fast Six, more than a few exceptions were found, starting with the Chip Ganassi Racing team whose fastest operator was Scott Dixon in P7. The Kiwi said, “Sorry, I think I mistimed it there” in reference to not getting the most out of his red tires before the Fast 12 session ended. In a trend that’s been developing since Friday, Penske’s Josef Newgarden wasn’t expecting to be P9 and last among his teammates, and in a similar situation, Alexander Rossi was well behind Herta and Grosjean in P13.
Ahead and behind Rossi, bright spots appeared with A.J. Foyt Racing’s Kyle Kirkwood who took P12 as the fastest rookie and teammate Dalton Kellett turned in a career-best qualifying performance with P14. Joy was in short supply with the remainder of the field.
Arrow McLaren SP’s day was disappointing as Felix Rosenqvist (P21) was not close to making it out of the first round of qualifying, and while his teammate Pato O’Ward had the pace to go forward, a big moment of oversteer at Turn 8 led to contact with the exit wall which bent his left-rear suspension. Sixth at the time of the incident, O’Ward (P16) fell outside the top six after losing the last few minutes of the session while sitting idle on pit lane.
UP NEXT: Warm-up, 8:45 a.m. ET, Race, 12:30 p.m. ET
AS IT HAPPENED:
The opening round of the Firestone Fast 12 where the first half of the field fought to earn one of the six transfer spots was led by Colton Herta at a new record of 59.4662s and from second to sixth we had Graham Rahal, Rinus VeeKay, Scott Dixon, Kyle Kirkwood and Josef Newgarden. The surprising misses were led by Alexander Rossi, Helio Castroneves, and Felix Rosenqvist.
In the next segment where the other half of the field went for their six transfer spots, Will Power lowered Herta’s standard with a 59.3928s, and behind him, teammate Scott McLaughlin, Romain Grosjean, Simon Pagenaud, Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou were locked into the next round. Two big surprises came with Dalton Kellett placing seventh, which brings his best starting position on a road and street course, and Pato O’Ward was ready to transfer but hit the wall and saw his best lap fall out of the top six as he sat on pit lane with suspension damage. Rookie driver David Malukas was penalized for blocking Jimmie Johnson and lost his two fastest laps.
The second round of qualifying where the top 12 could be cut to six featured Power in the lead with a 59.3466s lap. He had Herta, McLaughlin, Grosjean, Pagenaud and VeeKay joining him in the fight for pole. Dixon, Ericsson, Newgarden, Palou, Rahal and Kyle Kirkwood missed the cut and will start from P7 through P12.