NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Scott McLaughlin earned the second pole of his IndyCar career and Romain Grosjean and Christian Lundgaard earned their best starting spots of the season in rain-delayed qualifying for the Music City Grand Prix.
McLaughlin took pole in a flying final around the 11-turn, 2.1-mile course in Saturday’s session, which started 90 minutes late due to weather delays, and a botched first qualifying group and shortcut left some riders fuming with anger in Nashville’s hot, humid post-rain conditions.
The Team Penske rider was also fastest in Saturday morning practice.
Grosjean qualified second for Andretti Autosport, which eliminated three drivers in the first qualifying round. Lundgaard was a career-best third for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, who propelled all three drivers into the top 12.
Lundgaard overcame a second lap penalty and locked tire on the final lap and still managed to qualify third.
The championship contenders had a mixed day with defending champion Alex Palou, who is sixth in the six-driver fight, the top qualifier in fourth place. Pato O’Ward, who is fifth in the standings, only advanced because IndyCar points leader Will Power was knocked out of the final fast lap for interfering with O’Ward’s lap when he derailed in the top 12.
The penalty robbed Power of his fastest lap and O’Ward took his place. Power holds a nine-point lead over defending winner Marcus Ericsson, and just 52 points separate Power from Palou, with Sunday’s race being the first of the last four this season.
“We can have a great day tomorrow,” Power said of the eighth start. “Get a good strategy, good pit stops and see what we have.”
Third-placed Penske’s Josef Newgarden qualified sixth.
Ericsson and Scott Dixon, fourth in the standings, failed to make it out of the first lap. Dixon will start 14th and Ericsson 18th, where he started in last year’s win.
Colton Herta crashed in the first group of the first lap to bring out a late session red flag that ruined races for several riders, including teammate Alexander Rossi.
“A little too ambitious for the conditions. After it rained, a lot of that grip kind of broke down, just trying to find the right braking point, and I just overdid it,” Herta said. “I apologize to my team, especially to Andretti, because I think I probably screwed up Rossi badly there too. And probably a few other guys.
“I’m not trying to do it on purpose, and it really was an honest mistake, so I feel bad for everyone involved.”
The riders were in turmoil after the first group because it was so short. Before the Herta spin, Andretti Autosport rookie Devlin DeFrancesco also spun to bring out a yellow which chewed up three of the 10 minutes scheduled in the qualifying group.
This meant that most of the drivers eliminated in the round barely had a chance of making a qualifying run.
“Man, I’m so frustrated. It’s not sport, man,” said Simon Pagenaud, who will start 13th. “We can wait all day for the storm to pass, but they don’t give us enough time to put our knees down. It’s just amazing. I’m speechless.
“It’s such a shame because you can’t perform at your level. We’re going to start over where we don’t belong. A lot of guys don’t belong up front.
Felix Rosenqvist, who crashed in training earlier on Saturday, felt his lap would have moved him forward before he was stopped by the Herta accident.
“Just boring,” Rosenqvist said. “I didn’t even do a lap. We had a sort of warm-up lap. It’s something we have to look at, maybe we should have gone straight away and tried to take a ride, but it’s annoying when there are always red flags and we can’t even start the session.
The abbreviated session meant Dalton Kellett dropped out of the first group for the first time in 37 career IndyCar starts. He’ll start a career-high 12th, and was embraced by the team and his family members when he finished the session in the top-12.