The kid is on a roll.
Colton Herta remains the one to beat after lighting up NTT IndyCar Series qualifying with a sensational performance to claim pole for Sunday’s Music City Grand Prix.
The driver of the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda took advantage of advancing out of Round 1 on Firestone primary tires, which allowed him to equip a fresh set of alternates and put down a flying lap at 1m13.6835s in the Fast Six to claim his second pole of the season. The lap was head and shoulders above the rest of the field as Herta ended up 0.5492s ahead of second place qualifier Scott Dixon.
“I mean, it was a good lap but what we did in Q1 really helped us there with being able to transfer on the black (primary) tires,” Herta said. “That was the biggest thing, is being fast on the blacks. It was really just made it a lot easier for the rest of the way. Great job by everybody; great job by the team. Car is fantastic. As you can see what we’re able to do on the black laps compared to everybody, we’re really in a league of our own. So, it felt amazing. A good car to take into the race tomorrow, too. Nice and stable. So, yeah, really excited.”
Although Herta dominated on another street circuit — St. Petersburg — earlier this year, there is no comparison to running around the 2.17-mile, 11-turn circuit around downtown Nashville.
“It’s very different,” said Herta, currently seventh in the championship standings. “St. Pete’s a lot smoother, less bumps, less 90-degree corners. So it is very different to this track. And this track has its own group of challenges that I think is maybe one of if not the toughest track that we go to right now. It’s a very difficult track to learn with all these big open roads and multiple lines into some of these corners. Yeah, this is huge for me. Obviously, this one right here was for Robin Miller, who’s in the hospital right now. Keep on fighting, buddy. Hopefully, you get to a racetrack soon.”
For Dixon, who had two incidents in Turn 4 earlier in the day during second practice, it was a refreshing recovery to qualify the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on the front row.
“It kind of like sits in the back of your head, too,” Dixon said of the earlier incidents. “So the first two rounds of qualifying, I was kind of taking it a little bit cautious and making sure that we just converted. I knew the PNC Bank No. 9 was super-fast; the Honda’s have been super-fast all weekend with drivability and just power, I think. So it’s been positive, but it almost caught us out, too.
“Luckily, with that red, I think we’re on the right side of it with Josef (Newgarden). But yeah, the car is really fast. You can see, even on that second time we were running on the tires and went, I think, four or six tenths quicker on the used tires. We knew Herta was going to be fast because he was the only guy with new tires and he’s been quick all weekend. He definitely deserved that, so kudos to that group. We’ll see how tomorrow plays out, but starting on the front is fantastic for the PNC No. 9.”
Championship leader Alex Palou qualified third in the No. 10 CGR Honda but will drop six spots for the start of the race after being penalized for an unapproved engine change ahead of the weekend. Alexander Rossi ended up fourth to give Honda a sweep of the top four. Felix Rosenqvist had a much-needed strong effort, pushing to fifth as the only Chevrolet to make the Fast Six in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP entry.
“It’s disappointing, but nothing we can do,” Palou said. “Nothing that the team could have done differently. Nothing that I could have done differently. We tried our best today. We have two Chip Ganassi Racing cars in the top three, so that means that we have a fast car. I’m super comfortable. I think we matched our best qualifying so far this season with Barber also. So yeah, super, super happy. I think tomorrow’s going to be an exciting race. We have to get around some cars, and hopefully you can get to that podium again.”
Alexander Rossi ended up fourth to give Honda a sweep of the top four. Felix Rosenqvist had a much-needed strong effort, pushing to fifth as the only Chevrolet to make the Fast Six in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP entry.
Romain Grosjean qualified sixth. The driver of the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda broke into the final round after hometown favorite Josef Newgarden pounded the Turn 11 wall in Round 2. Newgarden was in the final transfer spot, but was penalized for bringing out a yellow flag in the session, losing his fastest lap and thus elevating the next fastest driver (Grosjean).
AS IT HAPPENED
The start of qualifying got off to a rocky start when Jimmie Johnson locked up entering Turn 10 and crashed into the outside wall moments after the green flag came out, bringing out the red flag.
The round resumed with 3m20s left with Newgarden leading off pit road with a set of sticker alternates to attack the 2.17-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit. Palou hits 1m15.3385s to top Group 1 in Round 1, Rossi, O’Ward, Rosenqvist, Newgarden and Power advance. First out is Rahal at 1m16.1097s, followed by Castroneves and Ferrucci.
In Group 2 of Round 1, Grosjean overshoots Turn 10 and goes to the runoff but was able to whip around to continue. Herta goes 1m14.8987s on Firestone primary tires — fastest time of the weekend — and then hits 1m14.7067s the following lap before coming to the pits. A.J. Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais hits 1m15.7322s to go P2 briefly, then fades to P5 as Grosjean, Marcus Ericsson, Simon Pagenaud and Rinus VeeKay all go faster with one minute to go. Dixon goes second quickest, followed by James Hinchcliffe and Jack Harvey breaks into the top six. Dixon hits 1m14.6673s to go top of the charts on reds, dropping Herta to P2. Harvey, Hinchcliffe, Pagenaud and Grosjean advance. Hunter-Reay is the first driver to miss the cutline at 1m15.4984s, followed by Bourdais.
The start of Round 2 begins with Pagenaud on used alternates, which he goes P1 on at 1m15.5341s before pitting for sticker reds. Newgarden and Herta rotated to the top spot before Palou hit a 1m15.2947s to go to the top with 4m30s remaining. Grosjean went out with clear track on alternates and jumped from 12th to first at 1m15.0078s with just over two minutes to go. Moments later, Palou hits 1m14.4578s to go top before Newgarden clobbered the Turn 11 wall, destroying his front wing and right front and ending his pole streak. He was in the final transfer spot to advance into the Firestone Fast Six prior to the crash. Upon review by officials, Newgarden was penalized and fell to 12th. This puts Grosjean into the Fast Six. Harvey will start seventh as the first driver on the outside looking in.
Palou, Rossi, Herta, Dixon, Rosenqvist and Grosjean advance into the Fast Six. No Team Penske advances, with Pagenaud the highest in eighth.
Everyone but Herta has scuff reds, Herta has sticker reds after saving them in Round 1. Raindrops start to fall prior to the start of the Fast Six, but holds off as drivers take to the track.
Palou hits 1m15.6585s to go top to start the session, with flying timed laps not getting sent until with 3 minutes remaining. Grosjean goes P1 briefly before Herta hits a 1m14.8530s laps with just under two minutes to go. Herta stays on track and then drops a 1m14.2226s lap to retain the top spot. Rossi goes second quickest at 1m14.8537s lap, but was upset by Dixon for the second spot. Herta remains on track for another lap and hit a 1m13.6835s to capture pole by 0.5492s ahead of Dixon.
UP NEXT: Warm-up Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Peacock; Music City Grand Prix, 5:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN