Andretti delighted after “a lot of hard work over the winter” pays off with 1-2 in qualifying

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It was a one-team show at St. Petersburg. Andretti managed to put three drivers in the Top 6 and locked out the front row with Romain Grosjean on pole and Colton Herta, whereas Kyle Kirkwood crashed out at the beginning of the final session.

The team owned by Michael Andretti has definitely made a step forward over the winter break, especially in terms of balance and drivability.

Colton Herta, the 2021 St. Petersburg winner and pole sitter, wasn’t completely satisfied with his final pole attempt, which left him in P2, 0.400s behind his teammate Grosjean.

He said in the post-qualifying session press conference, at which Pit Debrief was in attendance: “Yeah, just missed it on that last run. We were looking really good all day. Just a sloppy last lap. But it was still good enough for P2.

“Two Andretti cars on the front row and two Hondas on the front row. Keeping those Chevys and McLarens back. Good day, happy with it.”

In the immediate post session on track interview, the Californian driver described in particular his last timed attempt as “useless as gum on a boot heel”.

Asked to explain the expression, Herta admitted that he hadn’t been a fan of that lap: “Yeah, that was a bad lap. I probably did just about everything wrong that I could have.

“But I did a 5-5 in the run before. I didn’t think I could really go much faster than that if at all. Even if I did hook up a lap, I think it would be really close with Romain. I think in the 5s, that’s pretty much the absolute limit of this place for these conditions. Yeah, that’s a really good lap.”

Herta’s attitude for the race is rather calm, but he will definitely do his best in order to win here again:

“We’ll try to get the most out of it. Obviously, we’ll try to win, but if it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen. We’ll finish third, fourth, 15th,” he concluded.

Pole sitter Romain Grosjean was extremely grateful to his team for all the hard work that went into the preparation of the new season: “We improved a lot from last year as a team. I was impressed when I came to Thermal, all the efforts. It was a good test. Sebring was another good one.”

Pole positions are never easy to achieve, but the former Renault, Lotus and Haas F1 driver also mentioned how challenging signing the best lap time at the opening round of a new season with an expanded grid was:

“On track, obviously 27 cars, hard to get a lap. You never knew your best performance. Having three of us in the Fast Six, locked in the front row, is pretty impressive to start the season. Thankful for the team.”

“We worked really hard from a tough season last year. There were some better days, but today is a good one.”

The Swiss-French driver sees as extremely possible a win at St. Petersburg for any Andretti, considering how many challengers they put up at the top of the grid, and is extremely focused on trying to achieve his first race win in the series:

”INDYCAR is super competitive. We’ve seen the lap times in practice have been very tight. Good thing is that we’ve got three cars up there, so we have good chances as a team to grab the win.

“I’m going to do the best I can. I’m going to work on the car for the FP3 warmup to make sure we have a good race car, then we’re going to do our best. As Colton says, if the car is good enough to win, we win. If not, we finish where it is.”

Michael Andretti also commented on the impressive showing his drivers made in the first qualifying of 2023: “We were very excited coming into this season for sure, pre-season testing went very well.

“We did a lot of hard work over the winter. We felt pretty optimistic, but you never know what you have until you get it on the racetrack. Seems like it’s showing the way we hoped it would. Great start so far.

“Obviously we’re here for the race, so tomorrow is the big day,” he concluded, keeping his mind focused for the main event.

Photo: Penske Entertainment | Joe Skibinski