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Colton Herta claims NTT P1 Award as title contenders qualify in top six

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Saturday, September 21st, 2019

Courtesy of the NTT IndyCar Series

MONTEREY, Calif. – Like father, like son at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Twenty years after Bryan Herta won the third of his three consecutive Indy car poles at this 11-turn, 2.238-mile permanent road course, his 19-year-old son Colton won his first Laguna Seca pole here Saturday in qualifying for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Colton Herta. Photo by Joe Skibinski

The younger Herta, who also is trying to win the NTT IndyCar Series rookie-of-the-year award, captured his third pole of the NTT IndyCar Series season and will lead the 24-car field to the green flag.

RESULTS: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey qualifying

Following his father’s footsteps at this track clearly was meaningful to Herta, who lives with his family in Valencia, Calif.

“Yeah, it obviously means a lot with the family history,” he said. “Fifty percent of (my father’s) Indy car wins came here. It means a lot to kind of keep on the family tradition.”

Herta showed pole-level speed throughout the weekend, yet he wasn’t convinced he would capture the NTT P1 Award as practice transitioned into qualifying Saturday.

Colton Herta at the 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo by Stephen King

“Honestly, going into (morning practice) I thought maybe we lacked a little bit, and we didn’t have quite as big of a gap (to others),” he said. “We were (seventh) and we needed to find a little bit of time, so I was going to be happy to make it into the Fast Six. That would be an improvement, but we got there and we led every (qualifying) group we were in.”

Herta’s pole-winning lap in the Firestone Fast Six qualifying was 1 minute, 10.1405 seconds/114.867 miles per hour, scoring him a bonus point that could be important in deciding a pair of season winners. Herta might need it to win the rookie award, a championship contender might wish he had it to claim the Astor Challenge Cup.

Scott Dixon at the 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo by Stephen King

Herta’s pole also came shortly after he was confirmed to join Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport for 2020. Sunday, he will try to earn his second career NTT IndyCar Series race win after becoming the youngest winner in series history March 24 at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. He also will try to win a race here as his father did twice (1998 and ’99).

Alongside Herta on the front row will be championship contender Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda). But the five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion will have only a slight advantage on the other title challengers as Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet) and Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet) will start third, fourth and sixth, respectively.

Josef Newgarden. 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo by Stephen King

Newgarden is in the driver’s seat for the championship as he holds a 41-point lead over Rossi and a 42-point advantage on Pagenaud. Dixon is 85 points in arrears. Newgarden secures the title by finishing fourth or better, regardless of what the other three drivers do, in the season-closing race that awards double finishing position points.

“We’re all there, we’re all there ready to go,” Newgarden said of the starting grid. “It’s funny how that works out. They all made it (to the Firestone Fast Six), right? That’s what we’re supposed to do. Yeah, it’ll make it interesting.”

Rossi said having Newgarden close to him at the start “is not good for me, but, yeah, I guess it’s good for the show. It’s what probably should happen.”

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Joe Skibinski

On the eve of the championship race, Pagenaud said everyone must “rise above.”

“At the end of the day, a championship is on the line,” he said.

Pagenaud and Newgarden will be shooting for their second series titles. Rossi aims for his first.

Battling Herta for top rookie honors is Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda) and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda). Both Ferrucci and Rosenqvist had adventurous qualifying sessions.

Santino Ferrucci. Photo by Chris Owens

Ferrucci advanced to the second round of the knockout format, but his car drifted into the dirt on its final run and he couldn’t improve from 12th. Rosenqvist had eyes on winning the NTT P1 Award, but his car went wide in Turn 6, spun and was penalized for qualifying interference. He impeded the run by James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda), who was trailing Rosenqvist and lost 7/10 of a second in that segment as a result. By INDYCAR rules, Rosenqvist was stripped of his two fastest laps and was not permitted to advance to the second round. He will start 14th.

Rosenqvist takes a 26-point lead over Ferrucci into Sunday’s race. Herta is now 48 points back after collecting the bonus point for the pole.

Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, a 90-lap race, will be televised live on NBC beginning with the pre-race show at 2:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. PT) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. PT). The race also will be broadcast on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98).

‘What They’re Saying’ from the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey Qualifying

Top-10 Qualifiers

1st – COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda): “I’m doing something right, the team is doing something right. We obviously had a great car this whole weekend, and after leading coming just straight off the truck and leading, being P2 in the morning and Thursday, leading the day Thursday and leading practice 1, being there in practice 2 and 3 and obviously getting the pole, it just shows the charisma of the team and everything we’re doing has been in the right directions. Obviously it feels great, now it’s two poles in two weekends.”

2nd – SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was definitely a good recovery for us. We’d been struggling a little bit all weekend. I’d just been struggling to get the time out of the new tires. Felix has been doing a fantastic job. I don’t know the total scenario there, but I think he would have fought hard and had a really good shot at getting the pole. He’s been quick all weekend. But that’s the way it rolls. I think we did a good job. I know our second run pace on used tires had been really good all weekend, it was just I hadn’t been able to get the speed out of the new ones. It was a nice surprise, and you know, in a good position. We’ll just have to see how it rolls tomorrow.”

3rd – ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “We’ve had a pretty challenging two-and-a-half days for the (No.) 27 NAPA Andretti Honda group – really the Andretti Autosport group as a whole. We had peaks and valleys, but it came good this afternoon for the most part. It’s tough when you miss out by seven-hundredths. You can find a lot of places in a lap where you give that up. We just have to keep working at it and come up with a good race car strategy for tomorrow.”

4th – JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “Yeah, I mean, in our situation it’s a good thing to be close to the competition, specifically the ones in the championship. Yeah, we’ve got to have a good clean run tomorrow. You’d like to win every race and maybe we’ve got a race-winning car tomorrow. It certainly feels like we have the capability of it. But we need to have a good clean day, try and not get caught up in anything, and just run our race like we normally would. I think that’s what we’ll try and focus on.”

5th – JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “Obviously I think everyone on the Arrow car is thrilled to be on the Firestone Fast 6 this weekend, it’s been a tough log up to this last point. The test day wasn’t super productive for us and unfortunately then, over Friday and this morning, we were thrown all sorts of set up changes at the car. I’ve been having to learn how to drive a different car every session. We never gave up and huge credit to the engineers, and everybody, for keeping their heads down and coming up with the setup at the end of Practice 3 this morning, which was something we could work with and got two of our cars out of Round 1 of Qualifying, then to get into the Firestone Fast 6. I think if you would have told us that before this day started, we wouldn’t believe you. Proud of the Arrow guys, I want to try to end this season on a high note. We’ve had a rough run of luck the last few weeks and it would be nice to go into the off season with a strong result.”

6th – SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “Yeah, it was definitely an intense qualifying. We pushed as hard as we could to try to be ahead. Very exciting. I mean, a little too exciting for my taste, especially Q1 (first qualifying session). The problem is we were back there on pit lane, and it’s very difficult to get your tires up to temperature when everybody is trying to get themselves up front. So it’s an accordion effect, and Q1 was complicated. Our first lap was going to be my fastest and I caught Sebastien. To make sure I was going to get a good lap I had to abort to get a second. It was a very stressful situation, but overall I wanted to be on the pole. I think we all wanted to be on the pole. But it was very tight. It was very important to at least transfer to the Fast Six, and I think we tried everything we could. I was attacking everywhere, maybe a little too much at times, but that was the time to go. Absolutely no regrets, and we did the best we could.”

7th – WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We were on a good lap and I just made a mistake. I just seriously made a mistake. The second lap obviously was not good enough. It was about three hundredths off. It’s just frustrating man – frustrating man. We just weren’t good enough to make the Fast Six today. We’ve not been the quickest of the weekend, but we’ve kind of been in that area of where we qualified. We will go into tomorrow and try and help the team get a championship and try and win the race in the process.”

8th – GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda): “I thought it was a good run. We were lucky to squeak through in the first round after Felix’s issue but were able to make the most of it. We refined the car a little bit and missed advancing to the Fast Six by two-hundredths of a second – and two-hundredths of a second around here is nothing. We should have advanced, but I made a mistake. I was on a really good lap, I was on a four (1:10.4 lap time) which would have comfortably advanced us but I just screwed up going into the corkscrew, tried to roll too much speed, got too much understeer and ruined the lap. But at the end of the day, we’re right here at the sharp end of the grid with the good guys and I think we found some good stuff that will get us excited for next year.”

9th – RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “It was a missed opportunity, really. We went first in the first group there and I think with some of the Porsche rubber down, the car was really loose. We decided to go a bit more conservative for the second group and it didn’t pay off. The track rubbered up with the Firestone Indy car rubber and it really gripped the rear up – I was struggling with understeer. I had to get out of it in a couple of corners to keep it on the racetrack. We missed the cut off by nine-hundredths of a second. It’s that close and it was a really messy lap. To miss the cutoff by that much is unfortunate. We just missed the target there but hopefully tomorrow we get this (No.) 28 DHL Honda up front and fighting for the win. And hopefully, Andretti Autosport leaves with a championship as well.”

10th – MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): “It was a great day all around for us and the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet. We were leading FP3 (Practice 3) for quite a while and ended the session in sixth this morning, so then you’ve got the pressure to do it again in qualifying. We finished the first round 10th, which I was happy with and I knew I could do a better lap. We had a slightly different strategy for the second round of qualifying and we were the first car to go out on reds, which was good because I had clean track. We did a really good banker lap, which I knew probably wouldn’t be enough to get me through, so I just went all out. I was up a tenth until turn four, but on the exit I just lost the car. I think we had a car quick enough to make it into the Firestone Fast Six if I could’ve gotten it all together, but it’s just so close out there so it’s really just about getting everything right on the same lap.”

Remainder of Drivers (alphabetical – with qualifying position):

MARCO ANDRETTI (Qualified 22nd – No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “We left yesterday a little happier with the car. The car in qualifying today felt nothing like what we had yesterday. We were super loose on (Firestone) Reds and just couldn’t get the times in we needed. It’ll be a long day and we’ll have to get creative, but we’ll be ready for a fight.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (Qualified 19th – No. 18 SealMaster Honda): “It’s been a difficult 24 hours with everything that has gone on. In qualifying, I didn’t put the lap together. It’s on me. I didn’t start early enough and made a mistake on the first timed lap on the reds (Firestone alternate tire). Then on the second try I came short by about three tenths. Starting where we are is not physically ideal for me right now, but the No. 18 SealMaster Honda is better than where we qualified so we’ll just have to see what we can do tomorrow.”

CONOR DALY (Qualified 13th – No. 25 U.S. Air Force Honda): “We just missed it by a little bit. We’ve really, really struggled with this car all weekend long, sadly. But the team has been working with me really well and I appreciate the opportunity. This is one of the most important weekends of my life, so it’s unfortunate that we missed it by a little bit. All I get to do is just live my life one session at a time so it’s really hard to do that – it’s a shame. The race is a totally different animal, the tires are wearing a lot here so it will be interesting. We’ll be starting in the middle of the field, so just hope that everyone will be smart. Hopefully we can find a little bit of luck and maybe make something out of it.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (Qualified 11th – No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “I think it was a pretty good session. I think the first round went really well and we advanced to the second round, which was really good. On the blacks, we were P2, we were looking really good to go into the Firestone Fast Six as well, but then unfortunately on the red during the end of Qualifying 2, I put a wheel off and didn’t get a clean lap. It’s disappointing because I think we could have been in the Fast Six today, but in 11th we can still race from there. I think these last couple of days we have improved the car constantly every session and I think we have a really good race car for tomorrow. A bit disappointing with the end result of qualifying, but I think we have a good chance tomorrow.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (Qualified 12th – No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda): “I’m disappointed with our qualifying effort today. The No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing car has been good all weekend and while it was nice to make it into the Fast 12, we had a car capable of moving on to the Firestone Fast 6. Everything was going well and we were working a good lap, but I drove off track in Turn 6 and that cost us our chance to advance. We’ll have some work to do tomorrow to move up, but we’ll do our best to end the season with a strong result.”

JACK HARVEY (Qualified 24th – No. 60 AutoNation / SiriusXM Honda): “It’s been a tough weekend for us. We’ve lacked pace no matter what the conditions were. Hopefully tomorrow our strategy can move us up and if there are any yellows, hopefully they will play in our favor.”

ED JONES (Qualified 18th – No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet): “It’s been a tough weekend so far, but I think we made some progress in each of the sessions. Eighteenth on the grid is certainly not where we want to be, but race strategies are going to be quite different. Hopefully we can make something happen and end the season on a high.”

TONY KANAAN (Qualified 21st – No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We’ve been fighting a lack of grip all weekend and we haven’t been able to find it, so it’s obviously a bit frustrating, but we’ve got to keep working on it. The car is just not working around the track, so hopefully we’ll improve for tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (Qualified 20th – No. 23 Tresiba Carlin Chevrolet): “I’m really disappointed with qualifying honestly. I think we showed much better pace all weekend and Max proved that the Carlin cars could get it done, so I’m just a little confused with where the lap time was or wasn’t in this case. All it took was a couple of tenths and we would’ve transferred. It just shows how competitive the series is around here at Laguna Seca and really overall. I know we’ve got a good race car in the No. 23 Tresiba Carlin Chevrolet and we’ve got plenty of good strategy to dial up for tomorrow’s race.”

MATHEUS LEIST (Qualified 23rd – No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It looked like it was going to be our best qualifying of the year today. We had a pretty good car – we did the right preparation. On my fastest lap on the red tires, we had an issue on the last corner. We lost a second so that was the end of our day. That one second would have easily put us in the top 12. It’s a shame because it is the last qualifying of the year and the team wanted to be there, we had to be there. We’ll just focus on tomorrow and hope to have a good race.”

SPENCER PIGOT (Qualified 15th – No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “Overall, it was certainly not the qualifying we wanted. It’s going to be a tough race. We’ll see what we can do with strategy and try to pass some cars on the start. We definitely need to make some improvements for tomorrow and hopefully move forward.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (Qualified 14th – No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “(Reacting to his fastest two laps being disallowed and not being able to advance to the next round due to a rules violation) We were working for three days for this moment and we had the fastest time on track and the guys have just been doing an incredible job.”

TAKUMA SATO (Qualified 16th – No. 30 ABeam Honda): “It was a tough session. It’s a tight field and not really what we expected out of qualifying. We made good progress through all of the practice sessions. Our performance was moving up all the time, but unfortunately the car felt a little disconnected in qualifying. It was tough. In the end we lost advancing to the next segment by three-hundredths (of a second), so it’s a pity. Everyone is in the same situation, it was the hottest day and challenging. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it to the next round, but I believe we have a strong car.”

ZACH VEACH (Qualified 17th – No. 26 Gainbridge Honda): “It’s a little frustrating. We had something that was really good, but it kept visiting us at the wrong times. Any session that didn’t matter, we had a really good car and just tried to make it a little bit better. We just went past the tipping point for qualifying. This is kind of the way our season has been going but we’re trying our hardest to turn things around. We’ll get there!”

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