Story By: PAUL KELLY / INDYCAR – ST. PETERSBURG, FL – Scott McLaughlin targeted a main goal after his rookie season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2021 – improve his qualifying performances.
Consider that job done after just one race in 2022.
McLaughlin earned his first career NTT P1 Award by leading the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 59.4821 seconds Saturday afternoon in the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet, taking the top starting spot for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding. The pole also came in his first race working with Team Penske engineer Ben Bretzman.
“I love qualifying, and you’ve got to put it all on the line,” McLaughlin said. “I’m working really well with Ben Bretzman. The DEX Imaging Chevy, the car is just phenomenal. I’m super proud of everyone. I just feel confident, and now I’m so happy.”
McLaughlin’s pole was part of a front-row lockout by Team Penske. Will Power – who has won the pole nine times for this event – qualified second at 59.6058 in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, losing the top spot on McLaughlin’s final trip around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit.
“That was two good laps I did,” Power said. “I could have done better on the first; I made a little mistake on the back straight. I think Scott got the most out of it. That was a solid lap.”
Live coverage of the 100-lap race starts at noon (ET) Sunday on NBC, Telemundo Deportes on Universo and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Three-time Australian V8 Supercars McLaughlin will lead the field of 26 cars to the green flag for the first time in his open-wheel career. His best start in 2021 was fifth for the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but that was his only single-digit qualifying performance on a street or road course all season.
“I’m a competitive bloke, so I hate starting at the back,” McLaughlin said. “At the end of the day, it’s a new thing for me, starting from the front and leading a group into the first corner. I’m used to braking with people in front of me, so I’m going to have to make sure I don’t overshoot it like an idiot. I can’t wait for tomorrow. It’s going to be big.”
Colton Herta was the leading Honda-powered driver in qualifying, as he will start third after turning a top lap of 59.7104 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. Rinus VeeKay qualified fourth at 59.8102 in the No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet.
Romain Grosjean rebounded from an accident during practice Saturday morning to qualify fifth at 59.8116 in the No. 28 DHL Honda. Simon Pagenaud rounded out the Firestone Fast Six at 1 minute, .2041 of a second in the No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda.
In the second qualifying session, Power turned a top lap of 59.3466 to set the track record. The previous mark was 1:00.0476 by Jordan King in 2018.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES action will start at 8:45 a.m. (ET) Sunday with a 30-minute final practice, with live coverage on Peacock Premium.