Romain Grosjean couldn’t be happier. Rinus VeeKay was steaming mad. Agustin Canapino wanted more. Josef Newgarden wanted answers.
Other than Andretti Autosport’s much anticipated muscle-flexing in qualifying, almost nothing went according to plan for the majority of the 27-deep NTT IndyCar Series field at St. Petersburg. Barring Grosjean after earning the pole, happiness was in short supply after.
Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves showed promise leading into qualifying, but the Frenchman was the first to trigger a red flag and will start 25th. Castroneves had a much better day and secured 15th, but MSR wasn’t expecting both entries to start in the bottom half of the grid.
“Unfortunately, it was not the qualifying that I wanted or expected to start the season off,” Pagenaud said of his spin and stall. “I simply attacked too much.”
Ed Carpenter Racing looked like it was on pace to have VeeKay transferring into the Firestone Fast 12, if not the Fast 6, but he was relegated to 24th when a logjam occurred during his session.
“That was a tough one,” VeeKay said. “I am pretty annoyed and angry. We had a fast car, good enough for Fast 6 definitely. I was on my fast lap and then there were a bunch of cars standing still in Turn 10. Got hindered there and that was that.”
The retooled Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team was another outfit that had high hopes prior to qualifying, and while Christian Lundgaard delivered a solid run to 11th, having Jack Harvey and Graham Rahal down in 19th and 20th was not anticipated.
“That was actually a disappointing session for us,” Harvey said. “It sucks that our worst session this weekend was qualifying. The No. 30 car has been really good for our practices so I’m not really sure what happened there in the session. It was a big disappointment because of how good we felt we were.”
Team Penske was tipped to carry its front-running pace from last year’s St. Petersburg event into the new season, but so far, only Scott McLaughlin has been among the faster drivers. He’ll start sixth after crashing, spinning, and stalling in qualifying, and of the Penske trio, his was the best performance of the day. Reigning champion Will Power—IndyCar’s all-time best qualifier—could only manage 10th and Josef Newgarden was a distant 14th as difficulties spoiled their collective runs.
“Wanted to be farther up but the wind definitely affected us,” Power said. “Still happy to make it to the top 10 obviously. Very fierce, fierce competition out there to get the Firestone Fast 6 but look at Andretti — three of their cars in (the) top five. There are other good guys obviously out there, but I’m pretty happy with where we are.”
Some big names are starting deep in the field. Starting at 12 ET on NBC — with a green flag set to wave around 12:30—they’ll have 100 laps to reverse their fortunes or risk starting their championship bids in the hole.