Qualifying Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Feb. 26, 2020) — Qualifying for the AJ Foyt Racing team went well from everyone’s perspective including the team patriarch who is in Houston recovering from a bad cold. “I’m really happy for everyone–I thought all of the drivers did a great job today,” said A.J. Foyt.

Kyle Kirkwood made his NTT INDYCAR Series debut by making it past the first round of qualifying in the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet while Dalton Kellett barely missed transferring to Round 2 in his No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevy. Driving the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet, rookie Tatiana Calderón continued to make steady progress throughout the practice sessions by shaving off seconds from her lap times with each session.

Kirkwood, the only rookie to transfer out of Round 1, will start 12th after posting a lap time of 1 minute, .2616 seconds (107.531mph) around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street circuit. Four-time INDYCAR champion and two-time St. Pete race winner Sébastien Bourdais came out to the track to help Kirkwood this weekend.

Two-time St. Pete winner and 4-time INDYCAR champion Sébastien Bourdais was on hand to advise Kyle Kirkwood this weekend.

Kirkwood, the 2021 Indy Lights champion, posted a short video on social media, saying, “Just finished up my first ever qualifying in INDYCAR and made it into the top 12. I’m super ecstatic with that. We had a car that could have been potentially in the Fast Six, but unfortunately, on the one lap that you get with red tires, I just didn’t pull it off. I was trying to get more out of it than I’ve ever done before and pushed my brakes points a little bit further, and unfortunately, it kind of caught me out and I brushed the wall coming out of Turn 9. No real damage to the car but after that point, I just played it safe. We ended up 12th overall. Super happy with that, it’s right in the middle and we can make up some ground from there.”

Kellett, who has been saying in pre-season interviews that his goal was to improve his qualifying performance took a major step today by posting his best qualifying start ever in his relatively short career of just 24 races. His lap time of 59.9521 seconds (108.086mph) will put him 14th, in row 7 alongside Alexander Rossi and just behind teammate Kirkwood.

The 28-year-old Canadian also posted on social media, saying, “First qualifying of the year with the No 4 K-Line crew. We had a great run with our Team Chevy. Great day to be out racing here in St. Pete at the Firestone Grand Prix. I think we really hit the nail on the head from a setup standpoint.

“On the Firestone blacks, the car was a little free and then when we went to reds, it really came to us, he continued. “You just have that one lap to get it done and we got a quick lap in so starting 14th tomorrow. It’s my best ever INDYCAR qualifying, so I’m really excited for that. One of the goals this year was to improve our qualifying performance. With the importance of track position during the race, it’s really key to get a good starting spot so I think we’re in a good spot for tomorrow.”

Calderón, the 28-year-old Colombian with a resume of wide racing experience from Europe to Japan, will start 25th in the 26-car field after posting a lap time of 1 minute, .9391 seconds (106.336mph). Calderón, competing on the road and street circuits this year, recently moved from Madrid to Miami.

Tatiana Calderón was happy after qualifying. Looking on (L to R) are Cordell Durcholz (assistant engineer), Paula Calderón (sister and business agent) and Larry Foyt.

“Pretty happy with Day 2,” said Calderón. “We keep making steps forward. I’m quite happy with my qualifying balance. I think we found a little bit more where I’m comfortable with the red tires as well. They came in really quick and I was happy to explore the extra grip that they gave me so I’m looking forward to the first race tomorrow.”

Calderón in her “office.” Her helmet features the butterfly she’s run for the past several seasons, and new for this year, an American flag as she is racing in America.

Team Penske’s sophomore-year driver Scott McLaughlin won his first career NTT P1 pole award and to make it even more impressive, he stole it from his teammate Will Power, a veritable pole master who’s won 63 poles in his career. McLaughlin posted a time of 59.4821 seconds (108.940 mph) to Power’s 59.6058 (108.714mph). Rounding out the Firestone Fast Six were: Colton Herta, Rinus Veekay, Romain Grosjean and Simon Pagenaud.

Team President Larry Foyt summed up the official start to the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series by saying, “It was a great start for AJ Foyt Racing. We faced some huge challenges growing from two to three cars, and everyone pulled together to make it happen. Having Kyle be the top qualifying rookie and making round 2 was a nice result. Dalton almost advanced and has done a great job with the limited off-season testing time. Tatiana closed the gap every session and made huge gains in qualifying. All of the rookies face a challenge with their first time qualifying on red tires and she learned a lot. Tomorrow should be a fun race and it’s amazing to see how competitive and exciting INDYCAR is in 2022.”

The 100-lap Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be broadcast live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network starting at 12 noon ET.