Delayed as rainfall and local lightning strikes pushed qualifying for the Nashville Grand Prix back by 90 minutes, street race ace Scott McLaughlin wasn’t bothered by the pause to the afternoon as he eventually rocketed around the temporary circuit to earn pole position.
It was the New Zealander’s second pole of the year—his first coming on the streets of St. Petersburg — and sixth for Team Penske from 14 races as the No. 3 Chevy turned an unmatchable lap of 1m14.555s.
Behind him, Andretti Autosport’s one saving grace was Romain Grosjean qualifying second and salvaging what proved to be an error-filled qualifying session for his teammates. Grosjean’s No. 28 Honda (+0.1420s) wasn’t that far off of McLaughlin, nor was Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard, who’s making a habit of late by leading the team in time trials with the No. 30 Honda (+0.1594s).
“Really proud of the guys and the car was phenomenal,” McLaughlin said. “It was one of those good laps.”
For Grosjean, the good start comes after five consecutive qualifying positions of 10th or worse.
“It feels good. It feels really good,” Grosjean said. “Good job for all my [Andretti crew]. I’m glad to be second on the grid tomorrow.”
RLL’s Lundgaard, fastest on Friday, is turning into a rookie who’s performing like a veteran in the closing stages of the season.
“It was a very exciting session and we’re making progress, which is important,” he Lundgaard.
After the Dane, the rest of the Fast Six was completed by a somewhat distant Alex Palou from Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 10 Honda (+0.3532s), Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward in the no. 5 Chevy (+0.3706s), and Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who was the only driver in the final round to opt for primary tires (+0.5906s).
Elsewhere, championship leader Will Power was ready to vie for pole, but after venturing into a runoff section and bringing out a local yellow flag during the Fast 12 session, his fastest lap was surrendered per the rules, and in an instant, he was demoted from sixth to eighth as O’Ward was promoted into the Fast Six.
An error by Andretti’s Devlin DeFrancesco at the start of the first qualifying round caused a red flag and he was duly relegated to P25. Next, Andretti’s Colton Herta shaped the starting grid in a significant way after he crashed and triggered another red flag. With a number of Fast 12 contenders on their fastest laps, the session went red when Herta went into the tires and stalled with one minute left. The session was not restarted. Three of the four Andretti drivers, including two who were expected to take a run at pole—didn’t make it out of round one.
This left Simon Pagenaud (P13), Felix Rosenqvist (P15), a fuming Rossi (P17), Callum Ilott (P19), and Herta (P21) with a lot of ground to make up in the 80-lap race.
“A little too ambitious for what the conditions were,” Herta said of the fresh track that had its rubber washed away when the skies opened. “I feel really bad. I screwed myself; I screwed Rossi and probably a few other guys that were just innocent bystanders.”
A smart call by Dalton Kellett’s team to send him straight out on the faster alternate tires paid off when Herta’s mistake stopped the session; with his fastest lap already in the bank, the others who were affected by the red flag—many who chose not to set an early lap—were out-foxed by the A.J. Foyt Racing outfit as the Canadian earned his first trip to the Fast 12 where he went on to take P12.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s recent qualifying struggles continued as only Palou—its lowest-placed driver in the championship—made it through into the Firestone Fast 12. Citing a basic lack of speed, title contender Marcus Ericsson’s streak of terrible starting positions was preserved with a run to P18; teammate Scott Dixon a few spots ahead in P14.
The last bright spot of note came with RLL’s overall performance as the beleaguered Jack Harvey earned a start of P11, his second-best this year on a road or street course, and when added to Graham Rahal’s run to P9 and Lundgaard’s P3, the team is showing flashes of the form that was expected earlier in the year.