Herta takes pole in thrilling qualifying bout in Portland

A last-gasp flyer put Colton Herta on pole position for tomorrow’s NTT IndyCar Series race at Portland, capping off a qualifying session that proved to be a tripwire for most of the championship contenders.

Herta had established himself at the top of the Fast Six early on with a strong lap on stickered blacks, only to be unseated by Will Power, who’d opted to sit out the opening lap of the session and bet the farm on a single run. That backfired when he flat-spotted a tire on his first flying lap, but still managed to conjure enough pace on his final run to bump Herta from provisional pole… for about 10 seconds. Herta was still out there completing his own final lap, this time on scuffed reds, which knocked Power out of P1 by 0.02s.

“Crazy how close the field is here,” Herta said. “It always seems to be this way. I didn’t really expect to have the lap on one lap on used reds, but the grip was in right away so it was all good. I knew it was close. We kind of went with an oddball strategy with the new blacks instead of the new reds, and it ended up being closet to what was right than what was wrong.”

Power’s disappointment was palpable, but he owned he mistake.

“I flat-spotted the tire and then had a flat-spot for the next lap,” he said. “Disappointing. We had a good buffer on everyone, and should have been better. The car was good; I just need to put it together. I need to warm up the brakes better – I locked the brakes and flat-spotted the tire.”

Scott Dixon will start from third on the grid, and the championship aspirations that were dealt such a blow with the holed radiator at Gateway were given a renewed lift when all three of his main rivals failed to make the Fast Six. The most shocking was the elimination of both Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud from the opening round. Newgarden battled a car that looked like it was mounted on pogo sticks instead of tires and was knocked out of the first group by Andretti’s Zach Veach, while Pagenaud went out in group two, lost 0.7s with a big wobble on his last flyer, and failed to progress.

“Just can’t make a mistake, and I made a couple of them there,” said Newgarden, who will start from 13th. “Got wide and dropped a tenth on one lap, and dropped another tenth coming off a corner on the next lap. And you just can’t drop a tenth.”

Pagenaud, who will line up in P18, was singing a similar tune.

“Just don’t have the speed,” he said. “We lacked a little bit of speed in qualifying and it’s about putting the lap together, and its difficult to do so. We have a good car in long runs; just a shame we couldn’t be quicker. At the end of the day, it’s about how much you extract out of the car as a driver, and obviously I didn’t do as good a job as Will! Anything can happen; we just have to fight .”

The early exit of the two points-leading Penskes created an opening for Alexander Rossi, but that slammed shut when Ganassi’s Felix Rosenqvist knocked him out of the second qualifying round by 0.02s.

“We made some changes ahead of the second session,” Rossi said. “We wouldn’t have made those changes if we didn’t think it was the right decision to get us in to the Fast Six. I think missing out on advancing is an indication to how close the NTT IndyCar Series is, and you have got to nail it every lap of every session. We missed it, but we will get after tonight and make the car better.”

Power viewed the plight of the drivers he’d tipped to be his main threats for pole with interest, but noted the topsy-turvy nature of last year’s Portland race.

“Interesting how it all plays out and spices things up , but you saw how nuts this race was last year, with the way the yellows fell,” he said. “Who knows what’s going to happen, but we’ll just be going for the win.”

Jack Harvey will start alongside Dixon in fourth after a superb performance in the Meyer Shank entry, with Rosenqvist and Ryan Hunter-Reay – who’d gambled on using blacks for the entire session – rounding out the top six.

Elsewhere, it was a solid day for Arrow SPM, which will have James Hinchcliffe and Conor Daly line up just behind Rossi in eighth and ninth respectively, leaving Spencer Pigot to round out the top 10 for ECR.

Herta paces final IndyCar practice at Portland

Colton Herta still hasn’t found the sweet spot in the No.88 Harding Steinbrenner car’s handling, but it was quick enough for him to post the fastest lap in Saturday’s final NTT IndyCar Series practice session at Portland International Raceway.

Herta reeled off a 57.9939s lap to with three minutes to go, and it proved to be the only sub-58s lap of the morning.

“We had new tires at the end, so that was what it was down to,” Herta said. “We’re not completely there yet – Turn 2 and Turn 7 we have some handling issues, but the car is so awesome everywhere else that we kind of make up for it.”

Josef Newgarden came closest to matching the HSR rookie with a best lap of 58.1022s, putting him just 0.07s clear of fellow Penske driver Will Power. The Australian might have gone quicker, but Newgarden went wide and into the dust in the final couple of minutes and rejoined immediately ahead of his teammate, forcing Power to take the long way around in order to pass him and complete his lap.

Scott Dixon was fourth-fastest ahead of Alexander Rossi. He, like Power, appeared to have better pace than his final position suggests, but lost some time to a big oversteer moment shortly after he bolted on his final set of tires, and then struggled to find a clear bit of track in the last two minutes.

That battle to escape traffic was a familiar one down the field: Sebastien Bourdias, who ended the morning 10th-fastest, was another who believed that he still has some untapped speed to lean on.

“I didn’t really get a great read,” he said. “We got a bunch of traffic and stuff. It’s always so difficult here to get a lap. I think if I’d put a lap together we’d probably be top five. But we’ll see who gets it right on the reds.”

The session was interrupted twice by red flags, the first of which came early on after a spin by Matheus Leist. That was followed later by Santino Ferrucci’s Dale Coyne Racing Honda grinding to a stop just after he exited the pits. “It just shut off,” he reported.

Immediately following the session, the entire pitlane assembled for a minute’s silence in tribute to French driver Anthoine Hubert, who was died earlier today from injuries sustained in a Formula 2 crash at Spa.

RESULTS

Herta leads opening Portland practice

Colton Herta opened this weekend’s NTT IndyCar Series round at Portland with the fastest time in Friday morning’s opening practice session.

Herta stopped the clocks with a best of 57.4293s to put himself 0.1s clear of Alexander Rossi, with Scott Dixon a further 0.2s back to finish third fastest.

The morning had two main themes: a slippery surface, and a strong start for Honda. The story of the latter was told on the timing screens, where points leader Josef Newgarden went fourth fastest to stand as Chevy’s sole representative in the top 10. Penske teammate Will Power came close to joining him though, falling just 0.04s shot of bumping Gateway winner Takuma Sato out of P10, and Simon Pagenaud was 0.9s behind Power for 12th fastest.

But for many, the challenge of keeping the car pointed forwards was just as significant as making it go fast. James Hinchcliffe was the best illustration of that, bookending his session with spins but still finding enough time to rattle off the sixth-fastest lap of the morning in the Arrow SPM car (behind Marco Andretti, whose performance made Andretti Autosport the only team to have two cars in the top five).

At least half a dozen other drivers survived an array of half-spins and wheels-in-gravel moments, all of which ultimately proved to be harmless, although Santino Ferrucci booked himself an early place on the highlight reel with a one-handed save of a lurid sideways moment in the final minutes.

Elsewhere, Max Chilton and Pagenaud gave each other a scare when Chilton exited the pits directly into the Indy 500 winner’s path with three minutes remaining. Neither seemed inclined to make way for the other, and Pagenaud muscled the Carlin out of the way to claim the corner.

Conor Daly’s late call-up as replacement for Alfa-bound Marcus Ericsson at Arrow SPM ended with him at the bottom of the tables, 1.7s down on the ultimate pace and 0.19s behind Charlie Kimball who, coincidentally, was his teammate five days ago at Carlin.

RESULTS

UP NEXT: Practice 2 at 5:40 p.m. ET

 

Andretti closing in on fifth full-time entry

The Andretti Autosport team is making significant progress towards expanding its footprint in the NTT IndyCar Series paddock.

Multiple sources have told RACER the championship-winning team is preparing to confirm an increase from four to five full-time cars in 2020 and continue supporting a sixth through its Andretti Technology customer program as it seeks more personnel to fill a variety of roles. Branching out to cover a seventh entry for the Indianapolis 500 is also said to be part of the planning process.

As previously reported by RACER, the fifth Honda-powered Andretti entry is likely to be occupied by Colton Herta, who currently drives for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, and makes use of race engineering staff and chassis componentry provided by the Andretti team.

The renewed effort to place Herta in a funded and stable seat comes in the wake of an attempt by the Chevy-powered Arrow McLaren SP team to secure his services, with the fate of the talented but under-funded HSR team still to be finalized.

Plagued by budgetary shortfalls, Herta and the HSR team have dealt with a variety of setbacks throughout the season that have led to persistent questions as to whether the team would be able to continue. Through the benevolence and action from Capstone Turbines, the most recent concerns have been staved off as the company stepped in to ensure the No. 88 Honda took part in races at Mid-Ohio, Pocono, and this weekend at Gateway after GESS branding was removed from the car.

Renowned for its ability to secure significant corporate partnerships, a long-term relationship between Andretti and Herta could give the next-generation star the stability he needs to vie for titles. Looking to the next decade, it would also present the team with a powerful, long-term 1-2-3 punch alongside 27-year-old Alexander Rossi, and Andretti veteran and 2014 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who is seeking a contract extension beyond 2020.

On the HSR front, rumors of a post-season shutdown have circulated in recent weeks, and like Herta, providing a landing spot for George Steinbrenner IV at Andretti, in the event HSR does not continue, is said to be of great importance.

Steinbrenner, who has been a co-entrant on Herta’s cars since 2017 with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights, remains an important figure as Herta’s future is orchestrated. Of the various scenarios making the rounds, farming a new customer program out to HSR, and absorbing the HSR crew to use on Herta’s Andretti entry, have been mentioned.

Herta on top in third IndyCar Mid-Ohio practice

Colton Herta carried his strong Friday pace into Saturday morning at Mid-Ohio to top the times in the third NTT IndyCar Series practice session.

Herta popped up in the final seconds with a 1m.05.7048s, set while running on the black Firestones – the fastest overall lap of the weekend so far, and 0.02s quicker than he’d gone on the softer compound reds yesterday.

“That car on blacks seemed to come together,” he said. “We didn’t really have the car on blacks yesterday. The obvious reason for the faster lap is grip coming up, not the tire. I think we’ve got a good balance; going to try to loosen it up a little bit more and make it a bit slower on blacks but better on reds .”

The Harding Steinbrenner driver’s late jump to P1 came at the expense of ECR’s Spencer Pigot, who’d been the benchmark for the second half of the session. He ended up just 0.05s down on Herta, and similarly happy with how his weekend is unfolding.

“So far, so good,” he said. “The car has felt really good in every session – red and black ; we feel confident on both. So, looking forward to qualifying. We didn’t get a run on reds yesterday, but it was feeling good until the red flag came out. I guess we’re going a little bit blind into qualifying compared to some guys, but we’ll see what happens.”

Alexander Rossi made good use of a late run on fresh rubber to vault up to third-fastest ahead of James Hinchcliffe.

Keeping up the strong showing from Honda, Santino Ferrucci rounded out the top five, but it was a tricky session for some of the other rookies. RC Enerson triggered a red flag when the No.31 Carlin entry ran into trouble with 13 minutes left on the clock, and Ganassi’s Felix Rosenqvist did a pretty impressive job of avoiding the same fate when the No.10 clattered deep into the gravel at the end of the back straight. He kept his foot in it, pointed the car uphill, and managed to maneuver himself back onto the relative comfort of the grass.

Problem was, he was now facing against the traffic and was completely blind to what might be approaching. A lengthy back-and-forth with his pitwall followed as they worked to find a safe gap for him to rejoin before the Swede finally threw a 180, planted the throttle, dived off the racing line to avoid an oncoming car, and pressed on to complete the session 16th-fastest.

Elsewhere, Marcus Ericsson provided Simon Pagenaud with a moment of excitement that the Frenchman would probably have rather done without when he had a massive moment in the Arrow SPM car and almost collected the Penske while trying to recover.

RESULTS

UP NEXT: Qualifying, Saturday, 2:35 p.m. ET

Herta’s red tire pace leads second Mid-Ohio practice

Colton Herta hit the front just before the afternoon practice session for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio effectively ended a few minutes early by virtue of a minor crash involving Josef Newgarden.

The Harding Steinbrenner driver — who overcame a brief off-course run of his own earlier in the session — was exultant over how his No. 88 Capstone Honda responded to its switch to the option red tires in the closing stages of the 45-minute session.

“I picked up 1.1s — that’s a pretty big step up for how short the track is,” noted Herta. “And there’s some pretty big points where you’re gonna gain time — Turn 12, it really grips up when you have these reds, Turn 2 and Turn 4 and 5.”

He made made more of that gain than anyone else. Team Penske’s Chevrolets of Simon Pagenaud and Will Power took the second and third positions, 0.20s and 0.26s respectively off Herta’s best. Honda rounded out the top five with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, both within 0.3s of Herta,

The session resumed with enough time for one more lap — leading to some frustration for Tony Kanaan, who felt Carlin’s R.C. Enerson had been a little overly aggressive in elbowing his way past the AJ Foyt Racing No. 14 during the out lap — while Pagenaud, too, was thwarted by traffic in his quest for one more fast run.

Power had moved to the top of the times on black tires a half-hour in, before switching to the reds for the first time of the weekend. Interestingly though, the Verizon Chevy driver couldn’t get within a tenth of his best time after that.

Herta, though, made a big improvement — and a timely one. Moments later, Newgarden lost the back end of his No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevy into Turn 9 on his first flying lap on reds, skating into the tires and lightly damaging the rear wing.

“It’s not too bad. Just got loose and backed it in,” rued the championship leader, who wound up 11th. “I’ve just kind of kinda been fightin’ it this whole session, I don’t know why.”

First session pace-setter Scott Dixon also indulged in a spin exiting Turn 9 earlier in the session — fortunately a safe interval before Alexander Rossi came zipping past. Neither driver was in the mix at the top of the times, though, with Rossi winding up 13th — just as he did in the morning session — and Dixon 16th.

The patched surface in the Keyhole corner continued to be problematic, although the drivers seemed to think that as the track rubbers up over the course of the weekend, it will be less of an issue.

RESULTS

UP NEXT: Practice 3 at 10 a.m. Saturday

 

The Week In IndyCar, with Colton Herta and Michael Duncalfe

Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta and Road To Indy team owner Michael Duncalfe visit The Week In IndyCar podcast ahead of this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto event. IndyCar reporter and show host Marshall Pruett opens the show with answers to listener questions submitted via social media.

MP Q&A (starts at 14m51s)
Colton Herta (1h24m51s)
Michael Duncalfe (1h46m13s)

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