Colton Herta upstaged the championship contenders to claim pole for Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series title decider at Laguna Seca.
Barely an hour after being officially confirmed as a fifth Andretti driver for 2020, Herta rattled out a 1m10.1405s to secure the third pole of his career, and earn another point towards his push for Rookie of the Year.
“It was the Herta genes,” he joked after getting out of the car. “No, the team did great, the car was phenomenal and had such good pace. Hoping for better tire management than we had in Portland…”
The title protagonists will line up second, third, fourth and sixth, but in nothing close to championship order. Dark horse Scott Dixon was the quickest, coming in 0.07s slower than Herta to claim the outside of the front row. Alexander Rossi fell 0.03s short of taking the New Zealander’s place and will start from third alongside points leader Josef Newgarden, who scrapped his potentially fastest lap after running wide at Turn 2.
“We may have still been where we are,” Newgarden admitted. “We saved our good tire for the end, and I went for it. I knew it was going to take a really good lap like a zero or a one to get the pole, and I just pushed too hard — I went really, really deep, and it was kind of a one-lap deal so I aborted after that and that was it. But we’ll start fourth, which is pretty solid for us tomorrow.”
James Hinchcliffe did an excellent job to put his Arrow SPM car onto the third row, where he’ll be joined by Simon Pagenaud.
“This was time to go as hard as I could, and the temperature was a lot higher than it was in practice, and the car was too lose on corner entries,” Pagenaud said. “No regrets. I think we could have done as well as Josef, not better. We did well in race running yesterday, so we’ll see.”
Prior to the session, the most potential for drama appeared to lie in the fact that all four of the players in the title battle had been drawn together in the first qualifying group, which ratcheted up the likelihood that at least one of them would be forced to try to win the championship from the wrong end of the grid.
All four went on to transfer to the second round comfortably, and it instead fell to early-weekend pace-setter Felix Rosenqvist to stir things up. The Swede was on his second lap on the black tires early in the opening session when he ran wide and spun on the way up the hill, forcing Hinchcliffe to take evasive action.
Race control ruled that it constituted interference, and docked Rosenqvist his two fastest laps. His final lap — on three-lap-old reds, mind — would have been more than fast enough to promote him to the second round; instead, he will start from 14th. He was quick to express his displeasure on TV, and doubled down on via Twitter:
Newgarden later admitted that it would have helped his cause in the championship to have Rosenqvist taking up a place in the top six, but said that he also had some sympathy for the rookie’s situation.
“To be fair to Felix, he has been fast all weekend,” he said. “He would have been in contention all weekend. If you look at where Dixon is, he probably would have been quicker than Dixon. He would have been there [in the Fast 6] on merit.”