Colton Herta has rolled through the past two days of activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with tremendous swagger.
Ever since the turbo boost increased for Fast Friday and qualifying, the 21-year-old California native has remained undaunted by the jump in speeds that carry into the 233mph range. In fact, the only drawback thus far is on both days, he has been runner-up to six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.
On Friday, Herta put down a flyer at 232.784mph, which was a narrow 0.0858s off the pace of Dixon’s 233.302mph. Then, on the opening day of qualifying yesterday, Herta navigated four crisp laps for a combined average at 231.648mph, but again trailed only Dixon on the time sheets, who ran a 231.828mph average. However, that was just a teaser as both advanced into today’s Fast Nine Shootout and a shot at bragging rights for pole for the 105th Indianapolis 500.
“Before Fast Friday I didn’t really know exactly what to expect,” said Herta, driver of the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda. “I thought it could be similar to last year. Honda obviously proved that. Yeah, great job from them.
“Everybody did a spectacular job on my car. We got out there for two runs and learned a lot, put ourselves in the Fast Nine, so happy days.”
Herta’s second run on Saturday came as somewhat of a shock because, after all, his first attempt had plenty of pace to hold him into the Fast Nine. For as impressive as the first run was, though, the second run may have even been equal to it. While track temperatures were at 94F on his first attempt, it soared to 119F for his second and he hit a respectable 230.229mph.
“I really wanted to try to go out in that kind of range of what we’re going to see (today),” said Herta. “I think conditions are going to be similar — at least I was told that.
“I just wanted to see what the grip was going to be like, what the bar changes were going to do to the car. Probably a little bit too heavy on downforce, but we didn’t want to do anything stupid.”
With the Fast Nine Shootout starting at 3 p.m. ET, conditions are likely to be similar to those that Herta ran in during his second attempt. And just maybe, he won’t be staring at the back of Dixon’s No. 9 Chip Ganassi Honda for a third consecutive day.
“Yeah, if it ends up being like that (today), I think there is something to it,” said Herta, who started in the top 10 in his two previous Indy 500 starts. “For me, just kind of understanding the shift points and what’s going to be best for shifting for (today). I hate when they do that — when they put a different gear stack in, then it puts pressure on me to absolutely nail where to downshift and to figure out when to upshift, if I should upshift.
“Like I said before, the downforce level wasn’t the best for what we probably could have done. Everything else was right there.”