Grosjean outduels Herta for St. Petersburg IndyCar pole

Michael Levitt/Lumen

Grosjean outduels Herta for St. Petersburg IndyCar pole


Grosjean outduels Herta for St. Petersburg IndyCar pole


A year of frustration was put to rest during Saturday’s qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as Romain Grosjean put in a stellar lap to beat Andretti Autosport teammate Colton Herta by a massive margin of 0.4155s to earn the second NTT IndyCar Series pole of his career.

The Swiss-born Frenchman’s lap of 59.5532s in the No. 28 Honda was the first part of Andretti’s joyous Saturday as Herta claimed the other front-row spot and team newcomer Kyle Kirkwood secured the final spot in the Firestone Fast Six to give the team a 50-percent hold on the final knockout round.

“Pretty impressive to start the season,” Grosjean said. “Thankful for the team. We worked really hard from a tough season last year. The car felt much more alive. One-hundred percent, we found what I need.”

Grosjean’s sheer happiness from putting a character-building 2022 behind him was somewhat tempered by Herta who, of the two, was unable to get a clear lap to post a more representative time.

Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward was the leading driver for Team Chevy after recording a lap that placed the No. 5 entry third on the grid (+0.4631s) and he was well clear of Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing’s top driver, who secured fourth with the No. 8 Honda (+0.8903s). The last two members of the Fast Six had sessions to forget.

The No. 27 Andretti Honda mechanics had some work to do after Kirkwood crashed on his first lap, smashing his left-front suspension against the Turn 13 wall after locking his brakes and sailing off the circuit. It was the first mistake for Kirkwood, who starts fifth, after an otherwise perfect start to the year.

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, the polesitter and race winner from last year, was next to bring out the red flag after clipping the Turn 10 wall and losing the No. 3 Chevy on entry to the final corner. Executing a few spins along the way, he avoided the same Turn 13 wall that ended Kirkwood’s session, but his bent suspension — and the loss of his two fastest laps for causing the red flag — sealed his fate.

“I thought we had a car for pole today, which is really disappointing,” McLaughlin said of his sixth-place result.

After the Penske driver, CGR’s Alex Palou earned seventh ahead of Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist, CGR’s Scott Dixon, a dissatisfied Penske driver in Will Power, the best of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team in Christian Lundgaard, and Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi, who completed the Fast 12.

If Power was grumpy in 10th, teammate Josef Newgarden looked outright angry after a distant run to 14th. One a happier note, Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Agustin Canapino will have the distinction of starting 21st, one spot ahead of his heralded teammate Callum Ilott. The open-wheel racing novice heads into his first IndyCar race with six drivers behind him, which is nothing less than remarkable.

The opening round of knockout qualifying saw a red flag fly with 12 seconds left in the session when Simon Pagenaud nosed his car into the Turn 4 tires. With the rule allowing for drivers to return to the track and perform one warmup lap and one flying lap, the six drivers to transfer changed considerably with Kirkwood, Lundgaard and Ericsson going from being out to in by the checkered flag.

Ericsson’s jump to P6 in his group came at the expense of CGR teammate Marcus Armstrong who was bumped out on the Swede’s final tour. After Armstrong (who starts P13), Helio Castroneves (P15), Santino Ferrucci (P17), Jack Harvey (P19), Canapino (P21), Sting Ray Robb (P23), and Pagenaud (P25) missed the cut.

The next round that split the other half of the field to form the Firestone Fast 12 featured Dixon at the front and a frustrated Newgarden, who was just 0.0394s shy of transferring. Newgarden (P14, David Malukas (P16), Devlin DeFrancesco (P18), Graham Rahal (P20), Callum Ilott (P22), Rinus VeeKay (P24), Conor Daly (P26) and Benjamin Pedersen (P27) will have some work to do if they want to salvage the starts to their seasons.

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