It’s been a case of silver linings for Scott Dixon in qualifying for tomorrow’s Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg. He qualified 11th, lacking the chance to generate tyre temperature in Fast 12 qualifying.
The saving grace for Dixon was that championship rival Josef Newgarden also struggled; ending up eighth. If Newgarden wins tomorrow’s race, Dixon needs to finish ninth or better to clinch the title. Will Power took pole (the 62nd of his IndyCar career) over Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta.
Meanwhile, on his qualifying debut Scott McLaughlin wound up 21st after being unable to make the most of his car on red tyres. Having confirmed yesterday that he would take part in the IndyCar Series full-time in 2021, McLaughlin had been rapid in morning practice prior to qualifying; setting the 10th-fastest time.
Dixon and McLaughlin were both in the opening qualifying group; joined Newgarden, Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Marcus Ericsson, Takuma Sato, and Jack Harvey.
Dixon set a competitive time quickly on blacks; a 1:01.417 putting him fourth in the queue as the group switched to the quicker red side-wall Firestone alternates. McLaughlin meanwhile was eighth. The Supercars champ’s hot lap had featured a brief bit of contact with the wall, but he was ultimately able to press on.
Dixon’s first lap on the reds wasn’t good enough, improving just a few tenths. His next lap was better, though, jumping to second behind Hinchcliffe via a 1:00.872. In the dying moments, Harvey and Newgarden jumped Dixon took second and third, but it was still enough for Dixon to make the cut for the ‘Fast 12’ along with Pagenaud and Rossi.
A mistake on his hot lap saw McLaughlin wind up last of the group — unable to match his practice pace but benefiting from a few drivers being pinged for causing yellow flags to rise slightly on the grid. “I’m disappointed in myself, but it is what it is. [I’m] pushing out there and trying to find the limits in a fast-forward motion. We’ll just come back and have a go tomorrow,” he said.
In the second group, Herta, Rinus VeeKay, Power, Sebastian Bourdais, Patricio O’Ward, and Oliver Askew made it through to the leading group of 12. Felix Rosenqvist had qualified, but he would lose his fastest lap for impeding Alex Palau.
Dixon’s first time in the Fast 12 wasn’t strong; a 1:02.5429 placing him 12th of 12 as Herta, Rossi, and Power led. Dixon’s next time was an improvement, but it only put him ninth. His third lap, finally, put him into the top six — a 1:01.249. A run on the reds followed; Power, O’Ward, and Herta now the trio to beat at the top. Newgarden, meanwhile, was 10th.
Dixon struggled to put down a time immediately on the new tyres, as others around him improved. Herta, meanwhile, stole the lead off Power after the clock hit zero only for Power to get him back. At the flag they were first and second, with O’Ward, Harvey, Hinchcliffe, and Rossi filling out the top six.
Bourdais was first beyond the cut-off line in seventh, over Newgarden — unable to claim a qualifying bonus point. VeeKay, Askew, then Dixon completed top 11 — the Kiwi’s three runs all falling flat on the timesheets. Pagenaud had ended up eighth initially, but a late spin saw him lose his fastest lap and drop to 12th.
Herta was the quickest driver in the opening phase, over O’Ward and Hinchcliffe. The second-generation driver was unhappy with his laps, but as the final minute arrived he was still at the lead of the field. Herta’s time was finally beaten with just a few seconds left on the clock; Power clicking off a 1:01.106. Rossi then edged Herta, too, to put him back to third.
Power pressed on, seemingly just for the bragging rights — subsequently trimming another few tenths off his best. Rossi, Herta, Hinchcliffe, Harvey, and O’Ward completed the top six.
Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg, qualifying
- Will Power
- Alexander Rossi
- Colton Herta
- James Hinchcliffe
- Jack Harvey
- Patricio O’Ward
- Sebastien Bourdais
- Josef Newgarden
- Rinus Veekay
- Oliver Askew
- Scott Dixon
- Simon Pagenaud
- Takuma Sato
- Conor Daly
- Marcus Ericsson
- Alex Palau
- Graham Rahal
- Santino Ferrucci
- Ryan Hunter-Reay
- Charlie Kimball
- Scott McLaughlin
- Felix Rosenqvist
- Marco Andretti
- Max Chilton