Colton Herta will start on the pole position at St. Pete with many big names in the pack

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Colton Herta will start from the NTT IndyCar Series pole position Sunday for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, rebounding from a dismal result in the season opener.

The Andretti Autosport driver turned a lap of 1 minute, 0.3210 seconds in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street course in downtown St. Petersburg, narrowly besting the No. 60 of Jack Harvey (whose Meyer Shank Racing has a technical alliance with Andretti).

The Team Penske Chevrolets of Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud will form the second row. Newgarden had been fastest in practice Friday and Saturday morning in St. Pete after triggering a six-car crash last Sunday on the first lap of the 2021 season at Barber Motorsports Park.

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Full field rundown

GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETE: Details and how to watch Sunday on NBC

Herta, 21, was among those inadvertently collected in the spin by Newgarden, which made his first pole this season and the fifth of his career a nice confidence booster.

“I knew we had a good race car for here and really good qualifying pace from last year,” said Herta, whose previous best start at St. Pete was a third last October. “Just had to get through those first two stages nice and clean.

“Car was so good today. Everyone did a phenomenal job all weekend up until this point. Really happy for the guys and hopefully we have a great race tomorrow.”

It’s the fourth pole position at St. Pete for Andretti but the first since Tony Kanaan in 2008.

Sebastien Bourdais, a two-time winner at St. Pete, qualified fifth at his hometown track, and Pato O’Ward, the pole-sitter at Barber, was last among the Fast Six cars have trying to squeeze speed solely out of the Firestone black compound while the top five starters used the softer red tire.

“We had a quick car in qualifying, but we just didn’t make quite the right call on either using reds or new blacks,” O’Ward said. “The track was very different to what we felt in Practice 2, but we have a quick race car. We are going to be thinking about it tonight, and we are going to go get it tomorrow.”

Reaffirming how deep the 24-driver field is this season, some big names will be starting midpack or worse. The biggest stunner was Will Power, who already had made news Saturday with a contract extension reported by NBC Sports’ Marty Snider.

Will Power will start a career-worst 20th for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where he has eight poles and nine front row starts in the past 11 years (Joe/Skibinski/IndyCar).

Near the end of the second group in first-round qualifying, Power brushed the wall and suffered minor suspension damage that caused him to spin.

“I was up a little and tried to get a good exit, touched the wall, and it bent that toe,” Power, who was runner-up at Barber, told Snider. “So I tried to finish it, but too much, too bent. Yeah, unfortunate, man. It’s nuts to go from one of the best cars Friday to the worst car today. Unbelievable.”

Power, a nine-time pole-sitter at St. Pete, failed to advance from Group 1 for the first time since the July 2019 race weekend at Toronto. It’s the first time he was knocked out before the Fast Six in 13 races at St. Pete.

It will be the worst starting spot at St. Pete since a sixth in 2009 for Power, who had qualified on the front row in 10 of the past 12 races on the course. He later said “the aim for (Sunday) will be a top 10.”

Six-time defending series champion Scott Dixon (eighth) and title contender Alexander Rossi (11th) fared slightly better but still advanced only to the second round.

“It was definitely a pretty chaotic Round 1,” said Dixon, who was third at Barber. “Just barely scraped through there. Just really struggled with the entry. Which we’ve never had any problems through all the practices. Obviously the wind’s a lot higher, and track temps are up a lot between sessions there as well. Kind of caught me out for sure.

“On the Q2 there, Harvey came out in front of us and had to wave off Lap 2. Then we’re missing by a few hundredths. It’s a bit of a shame, but we’ll keep working on it. It’s not as easy as what it was last weekend at Barber, but we’ll keep working on it tonight. I know our race car was good last year, and we’ll probably revert to some of that stuff.”

Dixon’s new teammate Alex Palou, who became a first-time winner in IndyCar at Barber in his Chip Ganassi Racing debut, qualified 10th Saturday.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 23rd of 24 drivers in his IndyCar street course debut, avoiding starting in last for the second consecutive race by outqualifying Dalton Kellett.

Johnson said he picked up a second from practice on his best qualifying lap but struggled during the mad scramble to get a clean lap on the tight 14-turn layout.

“Trying to find a gap was much more difficult than I anticipated, and I really only got one good lap out of the two outings I made,” Johnson said. “It was just really kind of a mess out there. A second faster than what I did in practice. Big step for me, and I’m just chipping away at it.”

 


QUALIFYING RESULTS FOR GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSURG

1. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:00.3210 (107.425 mph)
2. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:00.5709 (106.982)
3. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:00.6078 (106.917)
4. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:00.6353 (106.868)
5. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:01.0017 (106.227)
6. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:01.0799 (106.091)
7. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:00.4858 (107.133)
8. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:00.4997 (107.108)
9. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:00.5678 (106.988)
10. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:00.6220 (106.892)
11. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:00.6476 (106.847)
12. (29) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:00.8671 (106.461)
13. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:00.8524 (106.487)
14. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:00.7044 (106.747)
15. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:00.9167 (106.375)
16. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:00.7058 (106.744)
17. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:00.9569 (106.305)
18. (51) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:00.8127 (106.557)
19. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:01.4220 (105.500)
20. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:01.1140 (106.031)
21. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:01.4453 (105.460)
22. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:01.5065 (105.355)
23. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 01:01.8364 (104.793)
24. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 01:02.3396 (103.947)

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Click here for the full rundown

ROUND BY ROUNDGroup 1 l Group 2 l Round 2 l Fast Six

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.