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IndyCar St. Petersburg: Newgarden surges to pole for season-opener

Team Penske ace Josef Newgarden delivered a late surging run in qualifying to claim pole for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Newgarden, a two-time series champion and defending Indianapolis 500 winner, executed a stout lap of 59.5714s around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit to claim the top spot by 0.0058s over Meyer Shank Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist.

“It’s an elevated level when you start out the year,” said Newgarden, who now has 17 career poles.

“I didn’t know that this would come today, it was a case of getting through the rounds and then seeing what we could do. This is a rockstar team and we’re going to go after it every single weekend.

“You have to give hats off to Team Chevy, they delivered today. We asked for a menu of items, and they did even more off-season and we did the exact same thing with our chassis.”

The performance by Rosenqvist comes in his first race with MSR, having made the switch from Arrow McLaren over the offseason.

“It’s been a really solid start so far, it’s been incredible,” Rosenqvist said. “We’re still biting ourselves a little bit. We had a feeling from practice and we rolled off the truck very fast.

“Historically, qualifying has been very strong for me, and I’m thinking about the race already. It’s a big question mark, as we haven’t done a real race sim yet.”

Fast Six qualifying

Rosenqvist was the first to go under the one-minute mark with a 59.9930s lap on a set of softer alternate tyres, but they was dropped by Arrow McLaren's Pato O’Ward and then Newgarden as the countdown left roughly 60s on the board.

O’Ward nailed a 59.6540s to temporarily take the top spot, stumbling some time on the back section of the lap and leaving Newgarden a chance – that was taken – to go top with a 59.5714s lap.

Rosqnvist managed to rebound with a stout lap to snag second, dropping O’Ward to third.

Andretti Global’s Colton Herta, who was stout throughout all of qualifying and appeared poised to take pole, ended up fourth.

Romian Grosjean snagged fifth in his maiden run with Juncos Hollinger Racing, ahead of Andretti Global’s Marcus Ericsson in sixth.

“It is very satisfying,” Grosjean said.

“This year I was hoping we could get into the Fast Six but I wasn’t exactly sure about it and I double-shifted on my fastest lap. I’m very happy with the result and we have a good baseline for the race. It’s a very good qualifying, everything has clicked, and it’s clear where the improvement needs to be made and we’ll try.”

Top 12 qualifying

The opening five – of 10 – minutes saw the top spot rotate between Scott Dixon, Scott McLaughlin, O’Ward and Herta – all running on the harder Firestone primary tyres.

As time ticked under the halfway mark, it was McLaughlin’s pace of 59.9593s that held serve to rivals. Dixon was the first to switch to the softer compound and go out for a run, which came at the four-minute mark.

Even with that, though, the changes on the leaderboard didn’t commence until there was nearly one minute remaining, with O’Ward going top and then starting a run that saw Romain Grosjean’s Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet momentarily up but was upstaged by Marcus Ericsson.

However, Herta was the first to break the track record with a 59.3157s lap to take the top spot but was short-lived after Rosenqvist nailed a staggering 59.2706s flyer.

Will Power held the previous record of 59.3466s (109.189 mph) in 2022. The pace also came under cloud cover that dropped the track temperature by roughly four degrees from 110F down to 106F.

When the dust settled on the frantic segment, it was Rosenqvist on top by 0.0451s over Herta. Newgarden, Ericsson, Grosjean and O’Ward were the rest of those to move on.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay put in an admirable effort but fell short of advancing by 0.0119s to settle seventh.

Team Penske’s duo of Power and McLaughlin ended up eighth and ninth, respectively.

“I think the 60 [Rosenqvist] was backing Scott [Dixon] up, so I had to finish the second lap just to be eighth and started my third lap right on him, so I had to abort it,” Power said.

“P8, can definitely race from there and the car is good this weekend. Any time you get into the top 10 or 12 it’s a good starting spot.

“Very determined to have a good race tomorrow. We’d loved to get into the top six, but it was very tight. It’s brutal behind the wheel, it’s like a steam room in there. When you dig deep to find hundredths, you really feel it.”

The Penske pair were followed by the Chip Ganassi Racing tandem of Marcus Armstrong and Dixon. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard was left in the final spot in 12th.

Group Stage qualifying

In Group 1, Meyer Shank Racing rookie Tom Blomqvist delivered the first daunting run with a 59.8607s lap on a set of primary tyres. All 13 entrants opted to switch to the softer alternates with less than three minutes remaining in the segment.

Although Alex Palou jumped to the top spot, he was dethroned by Chip Ganassi Racing team-mate Marcus Armstrong, who was then bounced by Ericsson with a daunting 59.3703s flyer.

When the segment wrapped up, it was Ericsson who maintaned the top spot, with Armstrong, O’Ward, Newgarden, VeeKay and McLaughlin advancing. Palou, the reigning and two-time IndyCar Series champion, was the first driver on the outside looking in, hitting a 59.7897, missing the cut by 0.1695s to McLaughlin’s 59.6202s lap.

“It was a lot better; we are close we just needed a bit more,” Palou said.

“At least we found what we were missing in practice, it was a shame we didn’t transfer in our first qualifying of the year, you don’t really want a start like that.

“It’s going to be tough tomorrow to overtake. It’s about surviving and getting the best we can. The car is good.”

Others who failed to advance was Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi, who was followed by a run of rookies in Blomqvist, Linus Lundqvist, Christian Rasmussen, Kyffin Simpson and Colin Braun. For Rossi, there was a thought of possibly being impeded.

“That’s IndyCar,” said Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner.

“I don’t really want to talk about that part too much. The car feels good and has really good potential. It’s just a mess on reds like that, it’s frustrating.”

In Group 2, Herta – on a set of primaries – hit a 59.5596s flying lap, with team-mate Kyle Kirkwood, who hit Turn 2 in a second practice run earlier in the day, was 0.5360s behind in second. Similar to Group 1, all cars were equipped with alternates with three minutes remaining.

Although Herta remained in the top spot at the time of the checkered flag, Grosjean climbed up to second at 0.0113s, followed by Rosenqvist in third. Power, Dixon and Lundgaard were the rest to advance.

Despite not running a lap in second practice due to a technical issue, AJ Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci was seventh, the first driver to not move on, missing the mark by 0.0242s.

“The car was on rails,” Ferrucci said.

“I’m actually bummed, we had more in it, but not being able to do FP2, which was nobody’s fault, it was just something unfortunate.

“My team boss Larry said, 'go out and put it seventh', so we have all the tyres in the world for the strategy in the race tomorrow, so you ask and you shall receive! We’re sitting pretty and we have a ton of pace.”

Ferrucci also confessed that he had a slight brush with the wall.

“I was trying to use it like a cushion, get into it to see if it launches you forward, I’ve been struggling in Turn 9 all weekend, so I kind of just sent it a little bit,” he said.

“I knew I was going to kiss it, and I was just hoping I’d kiss it the right way.”

Callum Ilott, who is substituting for the injured David Malukas at Arrow McLaren, was eighth, followed by Kirkwood.

“It’s so tight that we just missed out a little bit,” Ilott said.

“I’ve had a little bit of limited running, but you always want to be a bit better. A shame to miss out by a couple of places but it’s alright, we’re doing a good job.

“I’m sure we can put on a good race car. I started from further back and finished quite far up last year.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Agustin Canapino came away ninth, ahead of Graham Rahal, Sting Ray Robb, Pietro Fittipaldi and Jack Harvey.

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