Pole-ton Herta: Colton Claims Fifth Career Pole at St. Petersburg

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(Photo Credit: Chris Jones / Courtesy of IndyCar)

A rare sight this weekend, somebody not named Josef Newgarden sits atop the standings in a session ahead of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The name now reads Colton Herta, who piloted his number 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Autosport to pole position in qualifying on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Alongside him will be Meyer Shank Racing‘s Jack Harvey, who will start second.

The first group of Q1 saw a few uncharacteristic errors out of defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, including a spin at turn 7, narrowly avoiding the barriers. However, this would cause a local yellow and impede other drivers, for which Dixon was handed a penalty that took away his fastest lap of the session. Luckily, his second fastest lap was enough to send him through to Q2. Ryan Hunter-Reay was not as fortunate, as he was assessed the same penalty as Dixon and was knocked out of Q1.

Group 2 was even more shocking, as the king of qualifying at St. Pete Will Power was eliminated in Q1. Power made contact with the wall and damaged the rear toe of his Team Penske Chevrolet and tried to race through it, but a spin at the end of his lap heading to the hairpin turns 13 and 14 sealed his fate. Power was second fastest in Practice 1 on Friday, and called their dismal decline on Saturday “nuts” in an interview. He will start twentieth.

On the bright side however, it was revealed that in the offseason Power signed a new contract with Penske that will keep him with the team through at least 2023.

After narrowly missing out on Q3 in his first race, rookie Romain Grosjean was unable to advance out of Q1 this week. The Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing driver finished the session ninth out of twelve, which will translate to eighteenth on Sunday. Grosjean’s fellow rookies Scott McLaughlin and Jimmie Johnson were also eliminated in Q1.

The shocks didn’t end in Q1, as Q2 saw Alexander Rossi, Alex Palou and Dixon all miss out on Q3. At the top of the timing sheets all weekend, Rossi was a favorite for pole, but finished the session in eleventh place which will be his starting position for the race. Palou, the 2021 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race winner, has struggled considerably compared to last weekend, but will start one position ahead of Rossi in tenth place. Like many drivers this weekend, Dixon was forced to abandon flying laps due to traffic and struggled on corner entry all day, leading to an eighth place starting position for the race. Last year Dixon showed that he can make lemonade out of lemons, taking an eleventh place starting position to a third place finish at this event, so not all is lost for these contenders yet.

Q3 began with a gamble, as Arrow McLaren SP‘s Patricio O’Ward elected to run the entire session on a set of fresh, black-walled primary Firestone tyres. Considered the slower tyre of the two available compounds, the team thought that the lap times were close enough to get a better lap than teams on used sets of the softer and faster red-wall option tyres. Unfortunately, it did not pay off for last week’s polesitter, as O’Ward was the slowest of all in Q3.

In the final few seconds of the session, Herta stole the pole from Harvey and was safe at the top as other drivers finished their laps. Harvey matches his career best qualifying effort that he achieved at the  2020 GMR Grand Prix.

While his perfect weekend may have been ruined, Newgarden still came a way with a strong qualifying effort of third place, while his teammate Simon Pagenaud continues his incredible weekend with a fourth place starting position. Two-time St. Pete winner Sebastien Bourdais put his A.J. Foyt Enterprises machine in fifth place for tomorrow’s race, and will be joined on the third row by O’Ward.

Seventh place was claimed by Ed Carpenter Racing‘s Rinus Veekay, who will start alongside Dixon on the fourth row of the grid. Graham Rahal continues to get the most out of his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing machinery, with a ninth place starting position. Alongside him will be Palou to round out the top 10.

Drivers knocked out in Q1 will make up the back of the grid, with drivers who were knocked out in the first group making up the odd-numbered positions and the drivers in the second group making up the even-numbered positions.

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place tomorrow at 1200 EST / 1700 BST. Coverage will be provided by Sky Sports F1 in the UK and NBC in the US.

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Qualifying Results

126Colton HertaUSAAndretti Autosport01:00.321
260Jack HarveyENGMeyer Shank Racing01:00.570
32Josef NewgardenUSATeam Penske01:00.607
422Simon PagenaudFRATeam Penske01:00.635
514Sebastien BourdaisFRAA.J. Foyt Enterprises01:01.001
65Pato O’WardMEXArrow McLaren SP01:01.079
721Rinus VeeKayNEDEd Carpenter Racing01:00.485
89Scott DixonNZLChip Ganassi Racing01:00.499
915Graham RahalUSARahal Letterman Lanigan Racing01:00.567
1010Alex PalouESPChip Ganassi Racing01:00.622
1127Alexander RossiUSAAndretti Autosport01:00.647
1229James HinchcliffeCANAndretti Steinbrenner Autosport01:00.867
1328Ryan Hunter-ReayUSAAndretti Autosport01:00.852
143Scott McLaughlin (R)NZLTeam Penske01:00.704
1530Takuma SatoJPNRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing01:00.916
168Marcus EricssonSWEChip Ganassi Racing01:00.705
177Felix RosenqvistSWEArrow McLaren SP01:00.956
1851Romain Grosjean (R)SUIDale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Racing01:00.812
1920Conor DalyUSAEd Carpenter Racing01:01.422
2012Will PowerAUSTeam Penske01:01.114
2118Ed JonesUAEDale Coyne Racing w/ Vasser-Sullivan01:01.445
2259Max ChiltonENGCarlin01:01.506
2348Jimmie Johnson (R)USAChip Ganassi Racing01:01.836
244Dalton KellettCANA.J. Foyt Enterprises01:02.339
(R) = Rookie
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