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.
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“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.
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.”
My fun meter is at 11. pic.twitter.com/A6xykSYK5y
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) April 24, 2021
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