ST. PETERSBURG — Scott McLaughlin continued Team Penske’s tradition of dominance at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by winning his first career IndyCar Series pole Saturday.
“Pretty speechless,” McLaughlin said.
The 28-year-old New Zealand native won three championships in the Australian Supercars series but didn’t immediately click in IndyCar, in part due to qualifying hiccups. He never started higher than fifth before he navigated this 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course in 59.4821 seconds Saturday.
McLaughlin finished 22nd in his series debut at the Grand Prix in 2020. His only podium finish was a second-place run at Texas last year. He’ll be joined in the front row for Sunday’s season opener by Penske teammate Will Power.
McLaughlin’s No. 3 Chevrolet topped a 26-car field that’s the fastest in the event’s 19-year history. Entering this weekend, Jordan King held the track record (1:00.0476) from a qualifying lap in 2018.
Fourteen drivers broke the one-minute mark Saturday. Power took the record when his No. 12 Chevrolet finished a lap in 59.3466 seconds during the second qualifying phase.
“It shows how far these cars and engines have come pretty fast,” Power said.
Team Penske has won the pole 11 times in the past 16 races here and is looking for its 11th Grand Prix victory.
Belleair’s Colton Herta, who won the Grand Prix from the pole last year, qualified third in his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda.
Notable drivers who didn’t advance past the first round include three-time Grand Prix winner Helio Castroneves (who will start 17th), Pato O’Ward (16th) and 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi (13th).
Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, was slowest in the field. Johnson is in his second IndyCar season after running the road and street courses last year for Ganassi.
Nuts and bolts
Romain Grosjean hit the back of Takuma Sato’s car during morning practice, bruising his hands and damaging his No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda. He and his team recovered to qualify fifth, just behind Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay.
Carrollwood resident Glenn McGee finished 20th out of the 28-car field in Saturday’s Mazda MX-5 Cup race. Dante Tornello, a product of the Canterbury School of Florida and USF-St. Petersburg, crashed and finished 24th.