NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Scott McLaughlin won the second pole of his IndyCar career and Romain Grosjean and Christian Lundgaard earned their highest starting spots of the season in rain-delayed qualifying for the Music City Grand Prix.
McLaughlin won the pole on a flying final run around the 11-turn, 2.1-mile course in Saturday’s session, which started 90 minutes late because of weather delays, and a sloppy, shortened first qualifying group left some drivers steaming with anger in the hot, humid Nashville post-rain conditions.
The Team Penske driver was also the fastest in Saturday morning practice.
Grosjean qualified second for Andretti Autosport, which had three drivers eliminated in the first round of qualifying. Lundgaard was a career-best third for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, which advanced all three of its drivers to the top 12.
Lundgaard overcame a penalty in the second round and locked a tire in the final round and still managed to qualify third.
The championship contenders had a mixed day with reigning champion Alex Palou, who is ranked sixth in the six-driver fight, the highest qualifier at fourth. Pato O’Ward, who is fifth in the standings, only advanced because IndyCar points leader Will Power was knocked from the final fast six round for impeding O’Ward’s lap when he went off course in the top 12.
The penalty stripped Power of his fastest lap and O’Ward took his spot. Power holds a nine-point lead over defending race winner Marcus Ericsson, and only 52 points separate Power from Palou with Sunday’s race the first of the final four this season.
“We can have a great day tomorrow,” Power said of starting eighth. “Get good strategy, good pit stops and see what we’ve got.”
Josef Newgarden of Penske, who is third in the standings, qualified sixth.
Ericsson and Scott Dixon, fourth in the standings, failed to advance out of the first round. Dixon will start 14th and Ericsson 18th, where he started from in last year’s victory.
Colton Herta crashed in the first group of the first round to bring out a session-ending red flag that ruined multiple drivers’ runs, including teammate Alexander Rossi.
“Little bit too ambitious for what the conditions were. After it rained a lot of that grip kind of fell away, 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 over Rossi there pretty good, too. And probably a few other guys.
“I don’t try to do that on purpose, and was really an honest mistake, so I feel bad for everybody involved.”
Drivers were seething after the first group because it was so short. Prior to Herta’s spin, Andretti Autosport rookie Devlin DeFrancesco also spun to bring out a yellow that chewed up three of the 10 scheduled minutes in the qualifying group.
It meant most of the drivers eliminated in the round barely had a chance to make a qualifying run.
“Man, I’m so frustrated. That is not the sport, man,” said Simon Pagenaud, who will start 13th. “We can wait all the day for storm to pass, but they don’t give us enough time to put our lap down. It’s just unbelievable. I’m speechless.
“It’s such a shame because you just don’t get to perform at your level. We’re going to start again where we don’t belong. A lot of guys don’t belong up there up front.”
Felix Rosenqvist, who crashed in practice earlier Saturday, felt his lap would have advanced him before it was halted by the Herta crash.
“Just annoying,” Rosenqvist said. “I didn’t even have a lap. We had a kind of warmup lap. That’s something we have to look at, maybe we should have gone straight out and tried to do a lap, but it’s annoying when it’s always red flags and can’t even get the session going.”
The abbreviated session meant that Dalton Kellett advanced 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 team and family members when he finished the top-12 session.