McElrea Steals St. Petersburg Pole in Closing Seconds


With the pressure maxed out at 10 in a dramatic qualifying session, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires rookie Hunter McElrea posted a statement lap as time expired to score the pole for Sunday’s Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

McElrea posted a best lap time of 1 minute, 5.2812 seconds in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport entry with no time left on the clock. His rise to first was the last of six changes at the top of the board in the final five minutes alone.

That monster lap put McElrea nearly three-tenths of a second ahead of second place Linus Lundqvist, who put down an impressive time of 1:05.5735 in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry. Other drivers to hold P1 in the final five minutes of the 30-minute qualifying session were Christian Rasmussen and Benjamin Pedersen.

Even McElrea, who will start his first Indy Lights race at 9:30 a.m. (ET) Sunday (live on Peacock Premium and INDYCAR Radio Network), was caught off guard by the lap.

“I knew I had to do it on that last lap, and the tires were honestly a little bit past their peak,” he said. “I just did a lap. I didn’t expect to be on pole by three-tenths. I thought it was good enough for pole, probably, but when they said, ‘Pole by three tenths,’ I was shocked.”

McElrea’s Andretti Autosport teammate Sting Ray Robb will start third after posting a best lap of 1:05.6751 in the No. 2 car. Lundqvist’s HMD Motorsports teammate Pedersen, who also races under the Global Motorsports Group banner, will start fourth after a best lap of 1:05.8377 in the No. 24 car. 2021 Indy Pro 2000 champion and Andretti Autosport driver Rasmussen rounds out the top five with a lap of 1:05.8580 in the No. 28 car.

In 26 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races in St. Petersburg, Florida, the pole winner has won the race 13 times. It happened in both races here last year with Kyle Kirkwood and David Malukas. McElrea, 22, from Los Angeles, figures he has a good chance to continue that streak.

“It just sums up how good the car is,” he said. “It’s probably one of the best cars, if not the best car, I’ve ever driven. We’ve been fast, and then we’ve had issues that made us third or fourth instead of fastest. It was nice just to have a representative session with everyone on the same tires.”