ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A red flag in qualifying for rounds five and six of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires season gave drivers little time to perfect a lap around the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street circuit Friday.
At the checkered flag it was Michael Carter, driving the No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises entry, at the sharp point of the grid. He will share the front row with his championship rival Gresham Wagner.
Qualifying action came to a halt shortly after the green flag waved at 2:55 p.m. ET to collect Drake Kemper and Aaron Jeansonne from turn one. The two made contact on their first flying lap and were unable to continue.
The cleanup took approximately six minutes and left the rest of the Mazda MX-5 Cup field with only nine minutes to achieve their best lap time.
The circumstances seemed like they would amplify pressure on the drivers, but Carter said it actually made things easier for him.
“The red flag simplified things really,” Carter said. “I think there was only eight or nine minutes when we went back out on track and I tried to keep it simple and run as hard as I could to the end. The session was kind of mixed. Jared [Thomas], Chris [Nunes] and I were all by ourselves and then I eventually backed off because I knew we were only going to have a short amount of time. I just knew that I needed to get by myself and just run laps.
“The lap times that I was seeing, I thought I would be way off the pole lap times. I didn’t even know I was on pole until I took the checkered.”
Unlike the first four races, having a drafting partner was not key to a quick lap. Neither of the straightaways were long enough for a draft to make a difference. Instead, the front runners were all looking for clear air around the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit.
When Carter found it, he turned a pole time of 1:25.028.
“The car has been good all day,” Carter added. “It was the first time that we put on new tires. The draft here is not as important because we don’t really get going very fast. It’s not like at Daytona where you can be off by two seconds. Here it’s only like two car lengths.”
Current points leader Wagner qualified outside the front row. He was .289 seconds behind Carter in qualifying, but Wagner has a 150-point lead over Carter in the championship.
Taking up the third spot on the grid is rookie Sam Paley. He shares the second row with Selin Rollan, who was quickest in both of the earlier practice sessions.
Justin Piscitell completed the top five on the grid.
The grid for Saturday’s second race is set by drivers’ second-fastest qualifying lap. The top five are nearly identical, with Carter and Wagner on the front row, but in row two it’s Rollan starting third and Paley fourth.
Round five of the Mazda MX-5 Cup is set for 8:35 a.m. ET on Saturday, with round six following at 4:20 p.m. ET.
Both races will be streamed live on www.imsa.com and NBC Sports Gold TrackPass.