Herta Steals The Show In Portland Qualifying

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Colton Herta earned his second NTT IndyCar Series pole of the season Saturday at Portland Int'l Raceway. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Colton Herta earned his second NTT IndyCar Series pole of the season Saturday at Portland Int'l Raceway. (Al Steinberg Photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Even Colton Herta has to admit, it’s all adding up to a perfect weekend for the 19-year-old NTT IndyCar Series rookie at Portland Int’l Raceway.

He was the fastest driver in every practice session and he carried that momentum into qualifying, winning the second pole of his young career Saturday afternoon.

The son of retired IndyCar Series driver Bryan Herta was the fastest driver in Saturday’s Fast Six with a best lap of 57.8111 seconds for a speed of 122.302 mph in the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda.

“I think so, so far,” Herta said when asked if it’s a perfect weekend. “I don’t want to call it that yet, though.”

It was a very competitive Fast Six, with the separation from first to third .0244-of-a-second.

Team Penske’s Will Power was second at 57.8303 seconds (122.261 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was third at 57.8355 (122.250 mph) in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.

“Yeah, that was crazy,” Herta said. “Yeah, it was crazy how close the field is here. It always seems to be that way. I didn’t really expect to have the lap, one lap on used Reds, but the grip was kind of in right away, so it was all good.

“I knew it was close. I knew I was third before I hit the timing line. We went with an off-the-wall strategy with the new Blacks instead of the used Reds, and it ended up being pretty close in the end to what was right and what was wrong.”

Herta scored his first victory at Circuit of the Americas in the March 24 IndyCar Classic. He’s hoping for a repeat performance this weekend in Portland.

“COTA was weird, though, because I don’t think we were as dominant as this weekend,” Herta recalled. “I think we were close to the top. I led the first practice session at COTA. That’s the only practice session I led, and I qualified fourth.

“I think it’s something about these permanent road courses that just kind of gels with my driving style, and yeah, I don’t know why, but it’s just when I’m at my best.”

It was Herta’s second NTT IndyCar Series pole. His first pole came at Road America in June.

“I’m super excited, super honored,” Herta said. “I think I’m happy right now, but I know that the real task kind of starts tomorrow.

“It’s 105 laps, going to be difficult, and we’ve got the best starting spot and the best view going into turn one.”

Part-time driver Jack Harvey was fourth at 58.1008 seconds (121.692 mph) in a Honda, followed by rookie driver Felix Rosenqvist’s Honda at 58.1620 seconds (121.564 mph).

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner, rounded out the Fast Six at 58.1823 seconds (121.521 mph).

Alexander Rossi, who is third in NTT IndyCar Series points, 46 behind Josef Newgarden, qualified seventh at 57.8864 seconds (122.143 mph).

Points leader Newgarden and his closest pursuer, Simon Pagenaud, both failed to advance out of the first round of qualifying. Newgarden starts 13th after running a best lap at 57.9585 seconds (121.991 mph) and Pagenaud starts 18th after a lap at 57.9479 seconds (122.013 mph).

Both drivers said they just didn’t put together the right lap at the right time.

That honor sent to the pole winner.

“I knew it was definitely possible,” Herta said. “I knew we had a good chance at it, as long as we did what we were supposed to do. And everyone stayed focused and we had a good race car. We didn’t make that big of changes from practice 3 to qualifying, and the changes that we did make helped the car.

“It was very strange how the grip level came and went. I think group 1 and group 2 were pretty close on grip level, and then in the second round for some reason I think the grip level went away and everybody kind of went a little slower except for Will Power.

“They came on the radio and I heard everybody was super loud, so I just thought at that point we had to have had pole. I would have been disappointed if I pulled in and they told me third after hearing everybody cheering.”