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Grosjean recovers to win St. Petersburg pole for Andretti Autosport

When the green flag flies on the first NTT IndyCar Series race of 2023 Sunday afternoon (12pm EST on NBC), the first two cars to start will both be owned by Michael Andretti after his Fishers, Indiana based organization locked out the front row for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Romain Grosjean shares a smile while sitting on pit lane Saturday afternoon in St. Petersburg, FL. After 30 career starts in IndyCar, he has four podiums to his name and finished 5th on his Andretti debut last season in St. Pete. (Picture Credit: Chris Owens / INDYCAR)

Romain Grosjean notched his second career NTT P1 Award with a 59.5332-second lap time around the 1.8-mile street and airport runway-converted race circuit from St. Petersburg, Florida, utilizing the strip of tarmac the newly aviated Swiss-born French driver landed at a couple weeks ago. Taxiing off with an average speed of 108.810MPH, Grosjean bested his 22-year-old teammate of Colton Herta by 0.415-seconds in the first qualifying on the season. Herta won the 2021 edition of the race.

The 10-year Formula 1 star rebounded after a quick spin into the turn-14 grass during the second practice session held just hours before qualifications. Afterwards, Grosjean kept his Andretti Autosport DHL No. 28 Honda perfectly within the concrete canyon walls to notch his first pole position at the team and first since the 2021 GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis, driving for Dale Coyne w/ Rick Ware Racing at the time. 

Romain Grosjean speeds by a yacht parked off the St. Petersburg shore on Saturday. (Picture: Chris Owens / IndyCar Media, IMS)

“Last year was a really good end of the year, good winter testing,” Grosjean said. “We got here, and I said, ‘Boys, yeah, I think we’ve got something’ We put it out.” The 36-year-old finished 13th in his maiden season – his first full campaign stateside – driving for the team that most recently won the 2012 IndyCar Series title . “I knew last year that something was just not coming my way,” he explained. “We worked hard to find something.”

His Andretti Autosport No. 28 DHL crew celebrate their first pole position together. (via Andretti Global Twitter)

Pato O’Ward was the best of the Arrow McLaren IndyCar drivers, ending the day third on the leaderboard. He set a best-lap time of 1:00.0163 in his No. 5 Chevrolet. “Last year we truly started on the back foot,” the 23-year-old Monterey, Mexico native told the media after climbing out his Dallara-built racer. “We’ve got a car to fight with tomorrow.”

Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson joins O’Ward on the second row of Sunday’s grid. His Huski Chocolate No. 8 Honda posted a top lap of 1:00.4435 to the joy his supporters in the bleachers behind the pit lane after making a trek from his native Sweden.

Kyle Kirkwood, the third Andretti prepared machine to advance to the Fast Six, will line up fifth. Reigning St. Petersburg race winner Scott McLaughlin shares row three with the Californian after both drivers had incidents during the abbreviated 10-minute session. First, Kirkwood’s debut drive in Q3 ended with a harsh hit to the concrete barrier exiting turn 14. First locking up entering turn 13, his AutoNation No. 27 Honda drove straight off-course and wound up sliding through the grass before piercing the blunt-concrete wall. Kirkwood climbed from the car and his time was set back to Round 2’s results with hopes of a magical qualifying day binned just before his first official drive at Andretti.

Kirkwood walked back to his team’s timing stand under his own power following this incident with the wall. (Via INDYCAR / IMS Productions Twitter)

Meanwhile, McLaughlin had a deja vu incident leaving turn 12, dropping his right sides into the dirt before spinning all the around to a rest at the center of turn 13. With his No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevy stalled, IndyCar was forced to call a second red flag in the final session. Only one more flying lap was allotted for the remaining four drivers in the Fast Six, which opened the door for Grosjean’s final lap.

McLaughlin’s car was undamaged but penalized from continuing in the 10-minute session. (Via INDYCAR / IMS Productions Twitter)

Scott Dixon was fastest on Friday, but also faced trouble with the barriers during Saturday morning’s free practice session. Exiting the newly-repaved turns 2/3 complex, Dixon lost grip of his No. 9 PNC Bank-sponsored Honda and backed the Chip Ganassi Racing entry into the tire bundle stacked in turn 4. The CGR crew was able to repair the six-time series champion’s car with new wings mounted to the car for in time for the qualifying session. Dixon faced traffic issues in the second round, only posting the ninth-best lap-time.

Defending series champion and all-time pole winner in IndyCar history, Will Power, failed to advance from Round 2. His Verizon Team Penske No. 12 lines up 10th for Sunday’s 100-lap Grand Prix.

Rinus VeeKay lines up deep in the 27-car field after being held up by several drivers trying to optimize their own qualifying lap through turns 10 and 11. With the stackups down the back straight, VeeKay’s best lap was just a 1:00.483-second lap time in Q1, not allowing his Ed Carpenter Racing No. 21 to go through the next round. His BitNile Chevrolet starts 24th. The Dutchman was the most vocal on-air about the procedure, but was far from the only effected by the near-track blockages.

A speedy weekend for the Meyer Shank Racing group was derailed after Simon Pagenaud stuffed his No. 60 SiriusXM / Auto Nation Honda into the turn 4 tire bundle. (Via INDYCAR / IMS Productions Twitter)

For causing red flags during the elongated qualifications around the tight street circuit, Simon Pagenaud, Christian Lundgaard and the aforementioned Kirkwood and McLaughlin had their fastest two laps deleted by race control.

The moment Grosjean and team found out they claimed pole position for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix. (Via INDYCAR / IMS Productions Twitter)

Qualifying Results – 2023 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
1 – (28) Romain Grosjean / 59.553-seconds
2 – (26) Colton Herta / 59.968
3 – (5) Pato O’Ward / 60.016
4 – (8) Marcus Ericsson / 60.443
5 – (27) Kyle Kirkwood / No Time Posted
6 – (3) Scott McLaughlin / No Time Posted
7 – (10) Alex Palou / 59.778
8 – (6) Felix Rosenqvist / 59.797
9 – (9) Scott Dixon / 59.801
10 – (12) Will Power / 59.948
11 – (45) Christian Lundgaard / 59.961
12 – (7) Alexander Rossi / 60.004
13 – (11) Marcus Armstrong [R] / 60.316
14 – (2) Josef Newgarden / 60.060
15 – (06) Helio Castroneves / 60.505
16 – (18) David Malukas / 60.079
17 – (14) Santino Ferrucci / 60.530
18 – (29) Devlin DeFrancesco / 60.180
19 – (30) Jack Harvey / 60.727
20 – (15) Graham Rahal / 60.371
21 – (78) Agustin Canapino [R] / 61.069
22 – (77) Callum Ilott / 60.387
23 – (51) Sting Ray Robb [R] / 62.371
24 – (21) Rinus VeeKay / 60.483
25 – (60) Simon Pagenaud / 397.411
26 – (20) Conor Daly / 60.606
27 – (55) Benjamin Pedersen [R] / 61.435

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