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Colton Herta becomes youngest pole winner in Indy car history

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

Courtesy of the NTT IndyCar Series

ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Colton Herta knocked on history’s door in NTT IndyCar Series qualifying several times earlier this season. On Saturday, the rookie phenom broke through.

Colton Herta. Photo by James Black

Nearly three months after becoming the youngest race winner in Indy car annals, Herta added youngest pole winner to a growing list of accomplishments. The Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver got the best of the field on Road America’s challenging and lengthy permanent road course to take home the NTT P1 Award as the top qualifier for Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR.

REV GROUP GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY AMR: Official qualifying results

In the Firestone Fast Six, the last of Saturday’s three knockout qualifying rounds, Herta – 19 years, 83 days old – turned a lap of 1 minute, 42.9920 seconds (140.306 mph) in the No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda to win the pole. Herta is more than a year younger than Graham Rahal was when he won the pole for the St. Petersburg race in 2008 at 20 years, 90 days old.

Colton Herta. Photo by John Cote

“I’m so happy with how the day went,” Herta said. “The No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda guys are all working so hard and well together. 

“The car was fast. This is the first time that we’ve had that edge in qualifying to go for pole and I loved it. We really took advantage of it.”

Herta became the youngest race winner in Indy car history on March 24, when he drove to victory in the INDYCAR Classic, the NTT IndyCar Series race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, at the age of 18 years, 259 days. The speedy rookie had qualified in the top five on five occasions before Saturday, but never better than fourth. He was pleased to earn his first pole position on the revered 4.014-mile, 14-turn natural terrain circuit in Wisconsin.

“This is one of the best, if not the best, tracks in North America and the world,” Herta said. “To get it here, it’s a hard track to nail because it’s so long. To have it that close at the end, two-tenths (of a second), on some tracks might seem like a big margin, but around four miles, it’s really tight.

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Joe Skibinski

“I think for sure we had the best car today, and it showed.”

Alexander Rossi will start alongside Herta in the front row for Sunday’s race after qualifying second. The Andretti Autosport driver’s best lap in the Firestone Fast Six was 1:43.1693 (140.065 mph) in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda.

“As per usual, pretty competitive session,” Rossi said. “I don’t think we went in expecting anything less. Ultimately, we came up a little bit short. I think we were one-tenth or two-tenths (of a second) off all session.

“I think we had a good lap in the first round, made some changes that maybe weren’t ultimately the best. Regardless, we’re on the front row. We’ll take it. We’re ahead of our championship competitors. Hopefully that’s a good omen for tomorrow.”

Josef Newgarden >photo by Joe Skibinski

Team Penske’s Will Power and Josef Newgarden will share the second row for Sunday’s race. Power qualified third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:43.3749, 139.786 mph) with Newgarden fourth in the No 2 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet (1:43.6036, 139.478 mph). 

“I thought we were a third- or fourth-place car (in qualifying), is what it seemed like right from the get-go,” said Newgarden, the championship leader by 25 points over Rossi heading into the race. “I don’t think we were as strong as (Herta and Rossi). 

“It’s tough to get it right. We’ve got to work on the race now. We’re where we’re at. We’re within striking distance of putting in a good race tomorrow. That’s what we’ll focus on.”

Graham Rahal. Photo by John Cote

It will be an all-Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing third row on Sunday. Graham Rahal qualified fifth in the No. 15 Gehl/Manitou Honda (1:43.8076, 139.204 mph), with Takuma Sato sixth in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda (1:43.8790, 139.108 mph).

The three rounds of qualifying ran incident-free, though reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon suffered a mechanical issue on his final lap in the first round. The driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda advanced but didn’t turn a lap in the second round and will start 12th on Sunday.

Indy cars have raced on Road America’s beloved circuit since 1982. Sunday’s race will be the 29th at the track. Live coverage begins at noon ET on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Road to Indy race recaps

Ryan Norman of Andretti Autosport won Saturday’s Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race that featured a wild beginning. Pole sitter Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing) was penalized for blocking on the first of 20 laps, handing the lead to Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport). 

Aaron Telitz passed Norman and Megennis for the lead on Lap 2 before Norman stormed to the front on the third lap and pulled away for his first win of the season.

In Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires, Kyle Kirkwood (RP Motorsport Racing) took advantage of a strong restart and drove on to his first win in the middle rung of the Road to Indy ladder. Kirkwood overtook pole sitter Parker Thompson (Abel Motorsports) on Lap 3 and went on to win by more than four seconds over teammate Ian Rodriguez.

In the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, Hunter McElrea earned his first win in the series and led a 1-2 finish for Pabst Racing, with teammate Colin Kaminsky placing second.

All three Road to Indy series complete their weekend doubleheaders with races on Sunday.

‘What They’re Saying’ from qualifying at REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR at Road America

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet): “I thought we were a third- or a fourth-place car. That is what it seemed like right from the get-go. I don’t think we were as strong as these guys next to us. We didn’t have a great Q3 lap, I think we could have maybe pipped Will, but that’s maximum. We seemed stronger in the morning and seemed to suffer a little bit more in the heat this afternoon. But it’s tough to get it right so we’ve got to work on the race now with where we’re at. I think we’re within striking distance of putting a good race together and that’s what we’re going to focus on. But it’s been good having REV Group on our Chevrolet with us this weekend. Obviously they’ve got a great activation going with the first responders. Active first responders can come out to the track here for the weekend for free. So it’s a very cool program and it’s great to have them on our car and we’ll try to do them proud tomorrow.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We still need to improve a little bit for tomorrow. We qualified 20th and we still need to find some more speed with the black (Firestone primary) tires. Mainly, the car feels alright with the red (Firestone alternate) tires. We’ll see how things will be tomorrow. It looks like it’s going to rain but we never know. I will concentrate and do my best to give the team a good finish.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “I don’t think we’re too upset, we’ve certainly closed the gap. We’ve kind of been in the eighth to 10th (position) region all weekend, but definitely the gap has gotten smaller. Huge credit to the No. 5 guys and the Arrow car – we left nothing on the table out there. It’s such a tricky place to get a lap out of. The track is four miles long, and a tenth (of a second) puts you into the Firestone Fast Six. Like I said, we’re a lot closer than we were at the start. We are really good on blacks (Firestone primary tires). Last year this was a red (Firestone alternate tires) race, and Firestone has made a change to the red tires. I don’t think it’s going to be a red race. I think it’s going to be a black race, so that kind of bodes well for us. We’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “It’s been a difficult weekend. Obviously a new track for me. Yesterday was tough getting my head around it. We kept working hard, kept working last night to try and figure it out, and I felt like today was a good improvement in Practice 3; The driving, the Arrow car was feeling better, and we were getting closer even though the order didn’t show it. I felt that qualifying was going really well. On my red (Firestone alternate tires) lap, I was on a really good one that would have gotten us through to Round 2 until I pushed a bit too hard in the Carousel and went off there. Obviously very disappointing, but still shows that we’re making progress and we have the pace to fight it out there and fight around the top 10. So that’s positive, and that’s what we’re bringing to tomorrow. Hopefully, like we’ve shown all year, we know we are strong in the races and we can go forward from there.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Well, I don’t really know what to say. It just seems like one of those weekends where anything that could go wrong, goes wrong. We struggled a little bit with pace, and then just putting laps together for whatever reason. I’m not sure if that was just an underlying issue that finally just gave up, but I lost power coming into Turn 12. It’s unfortunate, of course, but at least we made a few little gains on track before that happened. Not a great start to the weekend for us in the PNC Bank car but it’s a long race and hopefully we can make it up tomorrow.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I came out a little bit on the wrong side of a tenth of a second there in qualifying. There were four cars ahead of us in the same tenth of a second. It’s always tight in INDYCAR. This time I came out on the wrong side after I made a mistake on my second lap, which I think we could have gone through without. It’s still not where we need to be with the car, and there is still a big gap to (Alexander) Rossi and to (Colton) Herta. I think we could have gone through so it’s a little bit disappointing. We have to look at an alternative strategy in the race tomorrow in the NTT DATA car.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think we’ve just been hanging around the top four all weekend and haven’t been P1 yet, but hopefully that’s tomorrow. Just a little bit short, with P2 being the best case scenario for our Verizon Chevy. Happy to start on row two. Hopefully it keeps us out of the mess and we just have a solid day.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We went the wrong way. We tried to make the car better, but we made the car worse. No excuses, it’s just a choice that we made and it didn’t work. Disappointing because I thought we had a much better car than this, but we will be OK.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Gehl / Manitou Honda): “It was a good day for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the end considering how we ran in Practice 3 to rebound like that and qualify fifth and sixth. It’s a good accomplishment. The Gehl car was strong in qualifying. We’ll be able to race from there. Tire wear is going to be a major issue for tomorrow so we’ll have to see how it all shakes out. Starting up front, you can’t lose the track position so we’re starting on reds (Firestone alternate tires) and you’ve got to go. But if the (bad) weather comes, we’ll face that challenge at the time.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda): “I’m kind of happy where we ended up. Craig (race engineer Craig Hampson) and the SealMaster crew did a good job, but I really don’t feel like I did my job. Going into every corner I was guessing what’s going to happen and how much I should push. I just don’t have a good feel for it. We’re in a good position, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda): “Practice went really well this morning and I think we showed the potential of what our No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda could do. Unfortunately, in qualifying things didn’t go our way when an engine issue ended our session early. That said, we’ll have a couple of new sets of Firestone (alternate) reds for the race tomorrow, which should help us out. We’ll just have to pass more cars as we try to move forward.”

ED JONES (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet): “It was a pretty good session for us considering where we were this morning. It’s been a pretty tough weekend, but the team has made some good changes and kept moving forward each session. We’re still not quite where we want to be, obviously we want to be higher. It’s hard around here. Trying to make the car really strong in the low-speed corners but also not sacrificing anything in the high-speed corners is really difficult. When you get it right, it makes a big difference. Qualifying was still positive considering everything, hopefully we can make a few more changes and move forward in the race tomorrow.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “It’s definitely a solid effort for everyone at Ed Carpenter Racing. We had a really good car this afternoon. There’s still a few things we can fine-tune on and find a bit more speed. It’s so close. A few hundredths here or there could put you in the Firestone Fast Six, but that’s INDYCAR qualifying. Overall, we can for sure race from eighth. In warmup yesterday, we did a pretty long run and felt really strong. Stronger on a long run than on one-lap pace. Hopefully that continues tomorrow as well. We know we can pass cars around this track. We’ll see if we can do that tomorrow and have a great day for our local partner Direct Supply.” 

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “We’re lacking some overall pace. 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.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda): “It’s always tough to get out of the car and see times that close. We didn’t have it in our high speed. Our balance on the (Firestone primary) blacks was off and as soon as we went to the (Firestone alternate) reds, we missed it through the carousel and through Turn 7 and 13. It is as close, as it always is in the NTT IndyCar Series, and we will get after it again tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “It came down to the end, but that’s the NTT IndyCar Series. What we have week-in-and-week-out, and it requires perfection from both the team and the driver. It was a good day, I think in general for the No. 27 NAPA Andretti boys – and congratulations to Colton (Herta), he did a good job. It’s unfortunate to miss out on the point that we need. But that’s the way it is. We’re ahead of Josef (Newgarden) and we’ll try to keep it that way.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We had a good lap going there to start. (Sebastien) 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.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda):  “It was a great recovery from the team. We struggled and were nowhere on the time sheets. The balance, grip level, trim and all the things just felt disconnected. We didn’t make major changes but we just reviewed every single area and I think we got everything together. Graham (Rahal) and I were able to push 100 percent without major mistakes, so I think as a team we should be happy with the performance. Tomorrow we are looking for more speed and hopefully we can have it. The red (Firestone alternate) tire seems to degrade more than last year and so do the Firestone primary (black) tires, so tire wear will be the key and also the weather.”

PATRICIO O’WARD (No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet): “We made some major progress with the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet from yesterday’s practices. I was feeling good with where we were after practice this morning, but for whatever reason, we just missed the window in qualifying and, unfortunately, 13th was the best we could’ve done today. I feel like I got every single bit out of the car that I could. All we can do now is work on the race car and be ready to go tomorrow.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): “It was the best the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet had been all year and we improved it a big amount from yesterday. We closed the gap to the field, but we’re just lacking something. I don’t know what it is, because that was the best lap I’ve done around Road America and I’ve been in the Firestone Fast Six in the past. It’s a bit frustrating, but I think Pato (teammate Patricio O’Ward) and I got the most out of the cars that we could. Annoyingly, the way that qualifying works I was quicker than a number of cars that are four or five spots ahead of me, but that’s just the way the two groups were lined up. At least tomorrow there will be some easy pickings to get around when we go green.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda): “It’s been a bit of a difficult weekend for us. I do think we made some progress in qualifying, but I had to lift for the yellow flag in Turn 1 and I think that cost me about six and a half tenths and then you just lose your momentum after that. I think that had that not happened we could have been closer to the transfer line. If we can take that kind of balance and pace into the race then we will have something to work with.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda): “I’m so happy with how the day went. The No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda guys are all working so hard and well together. The car was fast. This is the first time that we’ve had that edge in qualifying to go for pole and I loved it. We really took advantage of it and got the best starting position for tomorrow. Now we’ll keep checking the weather and make changes accordingly so we can have a great race.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “I got loose going into Turn 6, similar to what (Alexander) Rossi did yesterday, and it put me on the exit curb. That was enough to put me out of the Firestone Fast Six and that was over two tenths (of a second) and it would have put me around fourth. It is a double-edge as we had the pace for fourth or fifth without the mistake. It makes my day a little bit easier (starting 10th, in comparison to the last couple of races), but the guys up front are faster. It will make our race tomorrow a bit easier than the past few.”

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