Alex Palou continues mastery of Laguna Seca with pole-winning run at California road course

MONTEREY, Calif. (AP) — Two-time IndyCar champion Alex Palou continued his mastery of Laguna Seca Raceway by winning the pole Saturday in a qualifying session dominated by Honda drivers.

It was the second pole of the season for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver who has finished on the podium in all three of his previous starts on the permanent road course in Monterey, California. He won the race in the 2022 season finale in what many believe was a catalyst in his decision not to leave Ganassi to join Arrow McLaren Racing.

“It was really tight all of qualifying. I am really happy, the car was on rails," Palou said. “I think always starting up front is the best spot. Hopefully we can have a clean start, clean first couple of laps and hopefully there is not a lot of cautions that can screw our strategy.”

Kyle Kirkwood of Andretti Global qualified second in his best qualifying effort of the season. Five of the top six drivers in qualifying were powered by Honda.

Felix Rosenqvist of Meyer Shank Racing qualified third and was followed by Colton Herta of Andretti.

Alexander Rossi of Arrow McLaren was the highest qualifying Chevrolet driver in fifth. Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan rounded out the top six in another Honda.

IndyCar points leader Will Power, who holds the series record with 70 top starting spots, did not advance out of first qualifying group. Power earned his first win in over two years when he won two weeks ago at Road America in Wisconisn.

“I probably waited in the pit too long," he said of his qualifying strategy. "You can't screw around. Had the pace, just didn't put it together.”

It was a trend for Team Penske, which had won two of the last three IndyCar races, as Scott McLaughlin was the only driver to advance into the second qualifying round. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden was also eliminated in the first round.

“I think it's just me today, I think our car was really good. I was just really struggling to put it together,” Newgarden said. “Our car was really good. I don't think that's the issue.”

McLaughlin was then eliminated in the second round — meaning a Team Penske driver failed to advance to the Fast Six pole-shootout.

“I had a little slide through one of the corners and when you lose that momentum going up the hill, it really hurts you,” McLaughlin said. “You just can't make a mistake.”

David Malukas in his season debut, advanced out of first qualifying group with new team Meyer Shank Racing. Malukas was supposed to drive for Arrow McLaren this season but broke his wrist a month before the season-opener, and when he missed four races it triggered a clause in his McLaren contract that allowed the team to fire him.

He was hired to replace Tom Blomqvist, who appears headed back to full-time sports car racing after crashing on the opening lap of the Indianapolis 500 in a failed switch to IndyCar. Malukas said he felt total relief just to be back in the car and to start 12th on Sunday.

“So many different question marks going into it,” Malukas said. “Just got a little bit fatigued being out of the car so long.”

Nolan Siegel, the 19-year-old surprisingly hired earlier this week by Arrow McLaren, also did not advance out of the first qualifying group in his debut with his new team. Siegel, who was part of the winning LMP2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last week, is the youngest driver on the IndyCar grid. Siegel is in the car Malukas had been hired to drive before his injury.

“We're thrown into a really difficult situation here, we've had very little time to prepare," Siegel said. "I didn't know I was driving here until a few days ago, so it's tough. None of us know each other. We're getting better every session. We're getting to know each other better, I'm getting to know the car better. It's just a lot of new things and it's tough. IndyCar is super competitive.”


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