ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Scott McLaughlin circled qualifying as the area he had to improve upon in his second season of IndyCar. He nailed it in his first session of the year.
McLaughlin beat Team Penske teammate Will Power, one of the best qualifiers in series history, to win the pole Saturday for the season-opening race through the downtown streets of St. Petersburg.
The pole is the first for McLaughlin, who moved from racing supercars in Australia to IndyCar last season but never got the results he expected. His issues were tied to his qualifying performance, as McLaughlin cracked the top 10 only twice. His best starting position was fifth on the road course at Indianapolis.
“I know it’s only qualifying, but I love qualifying,” McLaughlin said. “You get to put it all on the line. Brilliant proud.”
McLaughlin gave an exuberant fist pump from inside his cockpit when he advanced into the Fast Six round of qualifying and was ecstatic after bumping Power in the final seconds. He went under a minute on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary course along Tampa Bay, posting his lap at 59.4821 seconds.
Power, who has 63 career poles and ranks second on IndyCar’s all-time list behind Mario Andretti, was second at :59.6058 to put a pair of Chevrolets on the front row for Sunday’s start.
“I think Scott got the most out of the lap,” Power said.
Colton Herta, the defending race winner, qualified third for Andretti Autosport in a Honda.
Grosjean was fastest in Friday practice and seemed to be a contender for the pole until a bizarre crash in morning practice. The Frenchman didn’t see a pack of traffic ahead of him on the course and slammed his new Andretti car into the back of Takuma Sato.
Grosjean’s car actually drove under Sato, who took the seat that Grosjean vacated at Dale Coyne Racing after one season in IndyCar. Grosjean said he bruised his hands, which were taped ahead of qualifying.
The qualifying session was much better for Chip Ganassi Racing, which had struggled through two practice sessions. Although none of the Ganassi drivers made it into the Fast Six, reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou recovered from a morning crash and was at least competitive in qualifying.