A last-gasp flyer put Colton Herta on pole position for tomorrow’s NTT IndyCar Series race at Portland, capping off a qualifying session that proved to be a tripwire for most of the championship contenders.
Herta had established himself at the top of the Fast Six early on with a strong lap on stickered blacks, only to be unseated by Will Power, who’d opted to sit out the opening lap of the session and bet the farm on a single run. That backfired when he flat-spotted a tire on his first flying lap, but still managed to conjure enough pace on his final run to bump Herta from provisional pole… for about 10 seconds. Herta was still out there completing his own final lap, this time on scuffed reds, which knocked Power out of P1 by 0.02s.
“Crazy how close the field is here,” Herta said. “It always seems to be this way. I didn’t really expect to have the lap on one lap on used reds, but the grip was in right away so it was all good. I knew it was close. We kind of went with an oddball strategy with the new blacks instead of the new reds, and it ended up being closet to what was right than what was wrong.”
Power’s disappointment was palpable, but he owned he mistake.
“I flat-spotted the tire and then had a flat-spot for the next lap,” he said. “Disappointing. We had a good buffer on everyone, and should have been better. The car was good; I just need to put it together. I need to warm up the brakes better – I locked the brakes and flat-spotted the tire.”
Scott Dixon will start from third on the grid, and the championship aspirations that were dealt such a blow with the holed radiator at Gateway were given a renewed lift when all three of his main rivals failed to make the Fast Six. The most shocking was the elimination of both Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud from the opening round. Newgarden battled a car that looked like it was mounted on pogo sticks instead of tires and was knocked out of the first group by Andretti’s Zach Veach, while Pagenaud went out in group two, lost 0.7s with a big wobble on his last flyer, and failed to progress.
“Just can’t make a mistake, and I made a couple of them there,” said Newgarden, who will start from 13th. “Got wide and dropped a tenth on one lap, and dropped another tenth coming off a corner on the next lap. And you just can’t drop a tenth.”
Pagenaud, who will line up in P18, was singing a similar tune.
“Just don’t have the speed,” he said. “We lacked a little bit of speed in qualifying and it’s about putting the lap together, and its difficult to do so. We have a good car in long runs; just a shame we couldn’t be quicker. At the end of the day, it’s about how much you extract out of the car as a driver, and obviously I didn’t do as good a job as Will! Anything can happen; we just have to fight [in the race].”
The early exit of the two points-leading Penskes created an opening for Alexander Rossi, but that slammed shut when Ganassi’s Felix Rosenqvist knocked him out of the second qualifying round by 0.02s.
“We made some changes ahead of the second session,” Rossi said. “We wouldn’t have made those changes if we didn’t think it was the right decision to get us in to the Fast Six. I think missing out on advancing is an indication to how close the NTT IndyCar Series is, and you have got to nail it every lap of every session. We missed it, but we will get after tonight and make the car better.”
Power viewed the plight of the drivers he’d tipped to be his main threats for pole with interest, but noted the topsy-turvy nature of last year’s Portland race.
“Interesting how it all plays out and spices things up [in qualifying], but you saw how nuts this race was last year, with the way the yellows fell,” he said. “Who knows what’s going to happen, but we’ll just be going for the win.”
Jack Harvey will start alongside Dixon in fourth after a superb performance in the Meyer Shank entry, with Rosenqvist and Ryan Hunter-Reay – who’d gambled on using blacks for the entire session – rounding out the top six.
Elsewhere, it was a solid day for Arrow SPM, which will have James Hinchcliffe and Conor Daly line up just behind Rossi in eighth and ninth respectively, leaving Spencer Pigot to round out the top 10 for ECR.