McLaughlin beats teammate Power to claim first IndyCar pole


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Scott McLaughlin circled qualifying as the area he needed to improve in his second IndyCar season. 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 claim pole on Saturday for the season-opening race through the streets of downtown St. Petersburg. .

Now that he’s finished the qualifying game, McLaughlin will have to figure out how to lead an IndyCar field to green on Sunday for the first time in his career.

“I think it’s been 12 years since I led a rolling start because of karting. It’s a standing start in Supercars. I hope I’m not an idiot, McLaughlin said. “I will start from the front leading a group to the first corner. I’m used to braking with people in front of me, so I’ll have to make sure I don’t pass him like an idiot.”

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 related to his qualifying performances and McLaughlin only reached the top 10 twice. His best starting position was fifth on the Indianapolis road course.

“It’s something you know you can do. Obviously in Australia we had a lot of success with poles and wins and all that kind of stuff and you know you can do it but you have a rough year like 21 where it just didn’t click and there were a few things where you just didn’t put it together, but you know the speed is there, McLaughlin said. “It’s about taking the pressure off and just focusing on what you need to do, and that’s what we did.”

McLaughlin threw an exuberant punch from inside his cockpit as he entered the Fast Six qualifying round and was ecstatic after hitting Power in the closing seconds. He went under the minute on the temporary 1.8-mile, 14-turn 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, finished second at :59.6058 to put a pair of Chevrolets in first for Sunday’s start.

“I think Scott got the most out of the round,” Power said. “I mean, man, the experience he’s had on the show over there in Australia, he’s had a number of years at a really high level as a professional. He knows how to put it together. It’s just a matter for him to get used to this car he has now, I expect him to be a contender.

Defending race winner Colton Herta qualified third for Andretti Autosport in a Honda. Fanduel ranks Herta as the 16-5 favorite.

Rinus VeeKay finished fourth for Ed Carpenter Racing in another Chevrolet, then was followed by Honda drivers Romain Grosjean and Simon Pagenaud on their debuts for new teams.

Grosjean was fastest in Friday practice and looked like he was in contention for pole until a bizarre crash in morning practice. The Frenchman saw no traffic ahead of him on the course and he crashed his new Andretti car into the back of Takuma Sato.

His car actually raced under Sato, who took the seat Grosjean left at Dale Coyne Racing after one season in IndyCar. Grosjean said he injured his hands and they were taped before qualifying.

Grosjean, who learned on Friday that he had been voted favorite driver in a poll of IndyCar fans, said the marshals should have done a better job of alerting drivers to the herd of cars piled up ahead. He also said he spoke to the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and “we agreed to disagree, so that’s fine.”

“It was a lot of work for the boys to put the car back together,” Grosjean conceded. “But Penske was very strong today. Good to see. I think it’s going to be a great fight, and we’re ready for that.

Chip Ganassi Racing had its best session of the weekend in qualifying after struggling for two tries. Although neither of the Ganassi drivers made it into the Fast Six, defending IndyCar champion Alex Palou recovered from a morning crash and was at least competitive in qualifying.

Dixon was seventh, Marcus Ericsson eighth and Palou 10th. Jimmie Johnson qualified last for only the second time in 13 IndyCar starts.


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