ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — One of Scott McLaughlin’s goal outside of an Indy 500 triumph for the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season was to qualify better. By doing so, it would give him a vastly better chance of success in his sophomore campaing here in America.
The thing is, this is technically his third shot on the streets of St. Pete as he made his series debut here back in the Fall of 2020. This time around, it’s showing that he’s got as great as a shot as anyone at the Fast Six later today.
McLaughlin, topped the speed charts in a messy Saturday morning practice with being the only driver in the sub 1-minute category. The Team Penske driver turned in a time of 59.7342-seconds in his No. 3 Chevrolet.
By comparison, the track record is 1:00.0476-seconds turned by Jordan King four years ago. Last year’s pole was by Colton Herta at 1:00.3210-seconds.
So, there’s a shot at a track record in qualifying (12:30 p.m. ET, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network).
The other factor of this is not a lot of drivers got many laps on the Firestone Alternate tires due to the many incidents that took place in practice.
There were 3 crashes in 45 minutes with the first being 17 minutes into the session when Jack Harvey clipped the wall at Turn 9 entry and that contact caused him to slam the concrete barriers at turn exit.
9 minutes later, as a group of cars were slowing into Turn 10 to get a clean lap, Romain Grosjean who was already at speed, slammed into the back of Takuma Sato at turn entry creating the second red flag.
At that point, everyone elected to put on the Firestone Reds. We’d go back green at 9:33 a.m. ET and have 12 minutes to work with the alternates. But, with six minutes-to-go, defending series champion, Alex Palou, crashed in the exact same spot as Harvey bringing out another stoppage.
The cleanup crew would make quick work of getting the debris and car cleared but it only allowed one lap of practice which therefore, locked in the speed charts.
Defending race winner in Herta (1:00.0851-seconds) was second in his No. 26 Honda while Simon Pagenaud (1:00.0853-seconds), Alexander Rossi (1:00.1075-seconds) and Will Power (1:00.1600-seconds) rounded out the top five.
Should Cars Stop Slowing On Track Looking For A Banker Lap
One problem that’s creeping up lately is that cars slow on track during practice in search for a clean lap. I get it. I truly do too. There’s no real gain by trying to do a qualifying practice and having cars in traffic. It gives us false data.
However, on a track of just 1.8-miles and 26 cars looking for real estate, what you saw between Grosjean and Sato is more common than you think. The only real reason for this incident was a traffic jam in Turn 10. Several cars were slow in that corner, all looking to let the car ahead of them get a clear gap.
But, when other cars at wanting to go at speed, you get contact. What can INDYCAR do? Do you cut the session in half between two groups? Do you make everyone go all out any time they’re on track?
Something needs to be done soon.
Ganassi Cars Struggling
We thought Friday’s session was an outlier. Ganassi wouldn’t be that far off would they? They went 15-17-19-24 in the opening practice session to the season. On Saturday morning, they’d surely be back to their rightful spot on top of the speed charts right?
Palou crashed but he was seventh. Johnson had several problems and was 25th out of 26 cars. Marcus Ericsson was 15th yesterday and 13th today. Dixon, was 19th and now 20th.
Can they turn it around in qualifying or is this truly what they have?
The defending Indy Lights champion was 12th in practice on Friday and backed that up with being eighth in practice on Saturday morning. The American driver has a very real shot at a good starting spot later. He was first and fifth respectively in USF2000 competition in 2018, 14th and 2nd in 2019 during Indy Pro 2000. Last year in Indy Lights, he was 1st and 2nd again. Now, he has a shot at being the top rookie if he can keep his No. 14 Chevrolet clean the rest of the way.
Fast 6 Contenders
McLaughlin was eighth and first respectively in the two sessions. 4 drivers were in the top six in both practices themselves.
Herta was second in both sessions. Power was third and fifth, Pagenaud fourth and third and Rossi sixth and fourth himself.
VeeKay is a sleeper who was ninth and sixth himself.