NASHVILLE — Sitting 79 points behind Team Penske lead teammate Will Power, most crossed paths with Scott McLaughlin in the 2022 IndyCar championship picture with four races to go.
The sophomore driver, who recorded his second career pole on Saturday night and already has two wins this year, may have one last Ave Maria up his sleeve. The second-year Australian driver set the fastest lap of the session in his final race at the Fast Six to edge Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean (1:14.5555 to 1:14.6975) for pole in the second edition Sunday’s Music City Grand Prix. .
A year ago, the New Zealander started 23rd and finished 22n/a13 laps behind after taking part in multiple warnings.
“Really excited for tomorrow. Obviously it’s going to be a really crazy race, but I’m so happy to start in front,” McLaughlin said. ), but there’s no reason why we can’t race now on these four tracks that I really enjoy.
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“Anything can happen in IndyCar. We could have a solid few weeks, focus on ourselves and who knows what’s going to happen.
Christian Lundgaard, who clinched the first podium of his IndyCar career and paced Friday afternoon practice, will start 3rd Sunday, with the trio contender for the title of Alex Palou (4e), Pato O’Ward (5e) and Joseph Newgarden (6e) all eyeing a win — or at least a podium finish — to make up significant ground on Power’s lead.
For a brief moment, it looked like the points leader would move into Fast 6 and have a chance to equal Mario Andretti’s IndyCar career record 67 poles before Power ran long into Turn 4 during Fast 12. Although he kept the car moving, turned around and backtracked, at least one car passed through the area where a local yellow had been called. Because of yellow, race control docked Power his fastest lap of the session, dropping him from 6e at the checkered flag up to 8eallowing O’Ward to move into the Fast Six.
As Power said after getting out of his car, he felt he got too close to Rinus VeeKay, the car in front of him, and was briefly distracted, briefly locked the wheels, and knew he wasn’t couldn’t make the 90 degree turn. the bridge. Yet 8e is far from going down to 16e in the early laps a week ago on the IMS road course and taking 3rdor his fall to last place in the first round at Mid-Ohio, to finish 3rd.
Further back Marcus Ericcson, who held the points lead for several races until Saturday when Power snatched him from IMS, will start 18e – ironically the same starting point as a year ago here on the streets of Nashville when the Swedish driver crushed the back of AJ Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais during an early restart. The front end of Ericsson’s #8 Honda rose several feet into the air and fell back to the ground. He was forced to take a stop-and-go penalty for avoidable contact – and also restarted at the back for his team working on the car in a closed pit lane – but managed to take advantage of the way yellows fell and ended up grabbing his second win of the year.
On the other end of that, Bourdais — who left the #14 Chevy car that Kyle Kirkwood now drives — started 16e a year ago, just one line ahead of Ericsson at the start. Kirkwood will also start 16e Sunday. But following a run that saw nine bouts of caution a year ago, Ericsson knows he can’t guarantee he’ll be on the safe side of any random back contact that may occur tomorrow so as he attempts to close his nine-point gap. in power.
“We have to find a good strategy and then play the race as it comes,” Ericsson said. “But if someone in that pit lane can fight from the back to the front, I think we’re still strong for that. We have to be smart tomorrow and pick our fights, find the strategy and be quick when we need it. I’m sure we’ll come up with something smart, and hopefully that translates into racing.
Even Saturday’s qualifying hour saw plenty of yellow flags, red flags and generally nervous moments for several cars across the paddock. Among those who managed to get around, Lundgaard locked his tires before Turn 4 during Fast 12, flattened them and had to run halfway down the track with worrying tire wear, dive into the pits and hope he could accumulate enough. temperature to shoot a lap that would reflect the strong pace he showed all weekend.
Amid nerves, he remained unfazed. “My engineer actually told me I broke later on the next lap (in Turn 4),” Lundgaard said with a laugh. “So just a really good execution.”
Others weren’t so lucky. Devlin DeFrancesco stalled his car in Turn 4 three minutes into the first round of Group 1, losing the other twelve drivers three minutes of precious racing with the red flag flying to allow the AMR safety team to clear it from the track. When the course turned green again with four minutes remaining, only five of the drivers had completed a lap.
And with 1 minute remaining, Andretti’s DeFrancesco teammate Colton Herta made an unforced error that brought to mind the potentially fatal blunder he made here a year ago. In 2021, Herta was stalking Ericsson in the closing laps of 2n/a-place and broke too late coming off the bridge in turn 9 and hit the concrete. On Saturday it was late braking in Turn 4 and relatively light contact with the tire barrier there, but it still brought out a red flag.
It will start 23rd.
“Just a bit too ambitious for the conditions,” admitted Herta. “After the rain we lost a lot of that grip, and I was just trying to find the right braking point, and I just overdid it. It’s hard when you put on these alternative tyres, and you only has one or two laps. You really have to get going.”
The pain of his mistake, however, was felt throughout his group with many mid-lap drivers looking to lift them into the top 6 that would move into the Fast 12 – including teammate Andretti Alexander Rossi, who jumped from his car quickly and could be seen storming the paddock, helmet on, avoiding any possible television interview. It will start 17e.
“Man, I’m so frustrated. It’s just not the sport, man, ”said Simon Pagenaud, who was the last man out of group 1 and who will start 13e. “Toronto was the same. We wait for the storm to pass, but they don’t give us enough time to get our knees down. I only got one ride on the (alternates). I am speechless.”
“(With these rules) we are failing to perform at our level, and we are going to start over where we don’t belong. A lot of guys don’t belong (before us), so it’s frustrating to see these rules not changing all these years after we said (IndyCar race control) they should.
Pagenaud’s anger, along with that of several other drivers, stems from the idea that yellow and red flags during IndyCar qualifying do not stop the 10-minute clock on the first two laps. Drivers are also not guaranteed a minimum time in these sessions, which creates the possibility of some of the randomness that we have often seen – especially on street courses – lately.
Juncos Hollinger Racing rookie Callum Ilott, who was headed for a lap that would have potentially allowed him to advance and will now start 19emade this simple remark on Twitter after getting out of the car: “What a joke @IndyCar.”
Added Felix Rosenqvist, who started on pole a week ago and starts on Sunday 15e: “It’s annoying that we haven’t even done a lap. It just seems weird, but I guess maybe we should have come straight out of the pits and tried to do a lap, but it’s annoying when that always turns red You just can’t start the session.
At the other end of the spectrum, AJ Foyt Racing’s Dalton Kellett has dropped from Group 1 and will start 12e Sunday – his best IndyCar ever in his 38e race. His previous best start of 14e came as a season opener this year to the streets of St. Pete. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, after often struggling in qualifying throughout their first season with three full-time cars, all three also made the Fast 12 – the only team outside of Team Penske with more than one car to qualify for the first round.
And it’s that level of chance – or at least surprise – that title hunters like O’Ward are waiting for again on Sunday, as the Mexican rider said he didn’t need a win so much as simply of surviving to keep his somewhat narrow title hopes sitting 5e with a gap of 46 points to lose.
“Last year the guy who had the worst crash this season and could still go on won the race,” O’Ward said. “It doesn’t matter where you start.
“I just don’t think we’re going to go green with how hot it is inside the car. People are going to get tired, hit the wall here and there, and I think there’s going to be some mishaps for sure.
“And if the yellows fall and they’re not in your favor, you go straight to the back. I think tomorrow will be about strategy and getting lucky.