MONTEREY, Calif. – With most of the focus on the four-driver battle for the NTT IndyCar Series championship, rookie Colton Herta stole the show in Saturday’s qualifications at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The Harding-Steinbrenner Racing driver, who was officially announced early in the afternoon to a ride at Andretti Autosport as the team’s fifth driver in 2020, came back a few hours later to win the pole for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.
Herta won the pole with a fast lap of 1:10.1405 (114.867 mph) around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile Laguna Seca course in the No. 88 Honda.
It was the 19-year-old’s third pole of the season for Harding Steinbrenner Racing.
Herta’s father, Bryan, won the pole at Laguna Seca in 1997, ’98 and ’99 and won the race there in 1998 and ’99.
“It obviously means a lot with the family history, and 50 percent of his IndyCar wins coming from here,” young Herta said. “It means a lot to kind of keep on the family tradition.
“Honestly, going into practice three, I thought maybe we lacked a little bit, and we didn’t have quite as big of a gap. We were P7, 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 have been an improvement. But we got there, and we led every group that we were in, so I knew that if we dialed a lap in and we put it together, we could be on pole.”
While the four very best drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series are fighting it out for the 2019 championship, they were outpaced by a driver who hasn’t even turned 20.
“It means I’m doing something right; the team is doing something right,” Herta said. “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 one, being there in practice two and three 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.”
Scott Dixon, the five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion, was second quick at 1:10.1831 (114.797 mph) in the Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He is fourth in the standings, 85 points behind the leader, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.
Alexander Rossi is second in points, 41 behind Newgarden. After a slow Friday, he rebounded in qualifications and will start third on the grid in a Honda at 1:10.2105 (114.752 mph).
Newgarden, who clinches the championship if he finishes fourth or better no matter what the other drivers do, was fourth at 1:10.8003 (114.003 mph) in the No. 2 Chevrolet.
James Hinchcliffe’s Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was fifth at 1:10.8003 (113.796 mph) and third-in-points Simon Pagenaud was sixth at 1:10.8616 (113.698 mph) in the No. 22 Chevrolet.
Pagenaud is third in the standings, 42 out of the lead.
The four best drivers this season will battle it out for the championship in Sunday’s race.
“I think we’ve probably been the most consistent, all of us, in a lot of ways,” Newgarden said. “It’s hard to say the best. I would say the most consistent for sure. But you know, guys like Felix Rosenqvist, for instance, he’s been pretty strong towards the end of this year. I think they’ll be contenders next year. But it’s about who strings together the best results all year. Obviously, it’s a championship race, and every race counts pretty significantly.
“I think that’s why you see — you normally see these contenders up front every weekend, and now when we come down to it, that’s why we’re all together. It pays to massively to win, so that’s why the guys that win the most races are normally up front.”
Said Pagenaud, “At the end of the day, there’s a championship on the line.”