Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta set a scorching lap to rip pole position away from Alexander Rossi for Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America. The teenager’s final lap of 1m42.9920s in the No. 88 Honda eclipsed Rossi’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda by 0.1773s to give the Japanese auto manufacturer a front-row lockout.
It was an all-Team Penske Chevy performance behind them, although Will Power’s No. 12 car (+0.3829s) and Josef Newgarden’s No. 2 (+0.6116s) were well adrift.
With an Andretti-affiliated car on pole and a full Andretti entry alongside, plus two Penske cars on Row 2, it was fitting to have both Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drivers occupying the third row as Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Honda earned a distant fifth (+0.8156s) ahead of Takuma Sato’s No. 30 (0.8870s).
“I’m so proud of the guys,” said Herta who added to the distinction of being IndyCar’s youngest winner earlier this season by becoming the youngest to capture pole. “They did such a good job all weekend. This is the cherry on top. It’s so awesome.”
Herta also credited Rossi and the Andretti Technologies firm for their influence on his HSR program.
“I’ve learned a lot from him,” he said of Rossi. “A great teammate. This pole’s because of them, for [a big] part.”
Rossi was disappointed to lose the point for pole which would have reduced the gap to Newgarden in the championship standings.
“That’s what we have week in and week out,” he said. “It was a good day in general for us. We’re ahead of Josef and we’ll try to keep it that way tomorrow.”
The leading Penske drivers were semi-pleased with their performances.
“Pretty happy with third,” Power said. “I think our potential was P2, but P3’s not bad. It’s an old-school track. It’s hard to get it right.”
“We just got beat,” added Newgarden, who won the race in 2018. “I hate getting beat. It seemed like the rear end of our car lost grip. Still good. We’re in the top five. We’re close. That’s close enough to win. But you always want to qualify on the pole.”
Tire degradation with the Firestone Reds, in particular, was mentioned by many drivers after qualifying, including Rahal.
“We’ve had glimpses of brilliance, but we struggled a little bit,” he said. “Both cars getting into the Fast Six is a great accomplishment with Takuma behind us. The Reds are going to be a problem tomorrow, but it’s the same for everybody.”
The sprint for the Firestone Fast Six left Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (seventh), Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot (eighth), Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe (ninth), a rejuvenated Marco Andretti (10th) and ECR’s Ed Jones (11th). Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who did not turn a lap, was sidelined in Turn 12.
“I feel terrible,” Bourdais said after barely missing the Fast Six. “I have no idea what I’m shooting at. I just don’t understand the car or the tires. I love this place, but it’s very unusual. It ends up being very scrappy laps. You can’t be satisfied as a driver. The crew did a really good job. We’ll see what we have tomorrow for the race.”
A generally strong performance by the ECR teammates was the main takeaway for Jones.
“It was a pretty good session for us,” he said. “We kept moving forward each session. You always want to be higher, but it’s positive, considering.”
Among the surprises in the opening round of qualifying were Ryan Hunter-Reay, who wasn’t close to transferring into the Fast 12, and Pato O’Ward, who was in the same group, and held the all-important sixth-place transfer spot until Bourdais knocked him out on the final lap.
Bourdais’ impressive rookie teammate Santino Ferrucci was beset by mechanical woes before he could attempt a run on the faster Firestone Reds, and pulled off to the right exiting pit lane. Having already changed to a fresh Honda engine, he was later joined by Scott Dixon, whose Honda powerplant spewed white smoke and went off-song while returning to pit lane after earning a Fast 12 berth.
“It’s been just one of those weekends,” Dixon said. “If it could go wrong, it has. It finally gave up. It lost power entering [Turn] 12. An eventful weekend for us.”
Hunter-Reay lamented easing off to create a gap to Bourdais, which was followed by a lap where a mistake ruined his chances of transferring.
“We had a good lap going there to start. Bourdais came out there in front of us, so I backed up and then at the end the car got really loose out of Turn 3. That cost us about three and a half tenths and that is the difference of making it [to Round 2]. We made some changes to the car and, in the end, I lost the rear of the car heading into [Turn] 3.
“It’s really tough to take. I’m disappointed for the DHL team, especially with how quick we have been,” said RHR, who will have to chase his first 2019 win from 15th.
The second wave in the opening round offered more surprises as Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud missed the cut by two positions. Compounding Ganassi qualifying woes, Felix Rosenqvist was among those who were missing speed when it mattered.
“We’re lacking some overall pace,” the Frenchman explained. “It was tight, clearly, with us missing transferring by three-thousandths of a second; but we just don’t quite have the grip. The good thing is this is a track where you can pass, so we’ll see where we can go from here in the Menards Chevy tomorrow.”
The Frenchman and the Swede will roll off the grid tomorrow in 16th and 18th, respectively.
Live coverage of the REV Group Grand Prix begins at noon EDT on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.