Herta denies title hopefuls of pole position at Laguna Seca

by Jordan Groves

Colton Herta has claimed his third pole position in the NTT IndyCar Series for tomorrow’s 2019 Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Fresh off of being announced as a fifth driver for Andretti Autosport for 2020, Herta denied the four championship contenders the extra bonus point for pole position, with all four contenders qualifying inside the top six.

Herta entered qualifying buoyant after a number of competitive and productive practice sessions and having literally just confirmed that both he and Harding Steinbrenner Racing would be uniting with Andretti Autosport for the 2020 IndyCar Series.

With spirits high in the #88 Honda camp, Herta would duly dominate all three qualifying sessions. He would finish his group in round one as the fastest driver and would hold onto first place in the second round to secure himself a spot in the shoot-out for pole position. His five rivals for pole position all opted to make two runs in the final session, with Herta instead just making one run of two laps right at the end of the session to try and secure himself pole position.

Straight out of the pits, Herta was fast. He would soon shoot back up to the top of the time-sheets with a lap-time of 1:10.1405. His second lap was right on pace too, but ultimately he would be fractionally slower with a 1:10.1658. Either one of those laps would have been good enough to secure pole position, as nobody was quite able to match the pace of the rookie.

The session would draw to a close with nobody able to best Colton’s time, thus putting Herta on pole position for the third time in his rookie season in the NTT IndyCar Series. The result would also be his second consecutive pole position, having started from the front at the last race at Portland International Raceway a few weeks ago.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

With all the pressure of the championship fight on the four championship contenders, all four managed to make it through to the final session of qualifying, despite all having scary moments during the three sessions. The outside hopeful for the championship, Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Scott Dixon, will start on the front row and will be hoping for a miracle to take the title tomorrow. Alexander Rossi will start in third-place despite having had a nightmare few days of practice leading up to qualifying.

Championship leader Josef Newgarden will start the race in fourth place. He just needs to finish in that position to guarantee himself the 2019 championship crown regardless of where his rivals place. However, Newgarden finished the session somewhat disappointed after a mistake on his final lap cost him a potential front-row start. He went too deep in the braking zone for turn one after he had looked to be on pace with the pole-sitter at the start of the lap.

The fourth and final championship contender, Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, will start in sixth-place after a messy qualifying session. He will start just behind Arrow Schmidt Peterson‘s James Hinchcliffe, who will hope to end the year on a high after a difficult season up to this point.

Pagenaud narrowly avoided being denied a spot in the final round of qualifying. Just three-thousandths of a second separated Simon from his Penske team-mate, Will Power, at the end of the second session. Power will start in seventh place, with Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay just behind in eighth and ninth respectively.

Carlin‘s Max Chilton put in a strong showing to qualify tenth on the grid in the #59 Chevrolet. Rookies, Marcus Ericsson and Santino Ferrucci rounded out the top twelve that made it out of the first round of qualifying.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

The story of the opening round of qualifying undoubtedly surrounded the current rookie of the year leader, Felix Rosenqvist. The Swedish driver entered the session as one of the favourites for pole position after showing speed throughout the weekend so far, but a mistake on the run up the hill to the corkscrew saw Rosenqvist spin across the track.

Felix was able to keep his car from stalling and managed to get back to the pits to prepare for another lap. However, the stewards judged that he had impeded James Hinchcliffe during the spin and would thus lose his two fastest laps at the end of the session. Rosenqvist went on to set the fastest time of the session, but his laps would be deleted and he would, therefore, be eliminated from qualifying.

As a result of his penalty, Rosenqvist will start the race down in fourteenth place; putting him right in the danger zone of the mid-field for tomorrow’s race that will decide whether or not he will be crowned the 2019 rookie of the year. Felix was understandably angry post-session, slamming the steward’s decision as “stupid” before also stating that he wondered if race control wanted someone else to win the rookie title instead of him. Strong words from the Swedish driver.

Elsewhere, Conor Daly qualified in thirteenth place, narrowly missing out on a spot in the top twelve on his return to the cockpit of the #25 Andretti Honda. Further back, Takuma Sato qualified down in sixteenth after having just confirmed that he will be remaining with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the 2020 IndyCar Series.

It was a difficult session for Dale Coyne Racing‘s Sebastien Bourdais. After aggravating an old back injury during practice, Sebastien was driving through pain in his #18 Honda and subsequently qualified down in nineteenth place. It is understood that fellow Frenchman, Tristan Vautier, is on standby to substitute for Sebastien in tomorrow’s race should Bourdais decide he is not fit to race.

Credit: Stephen King / Courtesy of IndyCar

2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey – Qualifying results:

POSNO.DRIVERNATTEAMTIME
188Colton Herta (R)USAHarding Steinbrenner Racing1:10.1405
29Scott DixonNZLChip Ganassi Racing1:10.1831
327Alexander RossiUSAAndretti Autosport1:10.2105
42Josef NewgardenUSATeam Penske1:10.6719
55James HinchcliffeCANArrow Schmidt Peterson1:10.8003
622Simon PagenaudFRATeam Penske1:10.8616
--Eliminated in Q2---
712Will PowerAUSTeam Penske1:10.6086
815Graham RahalUSARahal Letterman Lanigan Racing1:10.6296
928Ryan Hunter-ReayUSAAndretti Autosport1:10.6919
1059Max ChiltonGBRCarlin1:10.7257
117Marcus Ericsson (R)SWEArrow Schmidt Peterson1:11.1666
1219Santino Ferrucci (R)USADale Coyne Racing1:12.4137
--Eliminated in Q1---
1325Conor DalyUSAAndretti Autosport1:10.7787
1410Felix Rosenqvist (R)SWEChip Ganassi Racing1:10.5649
1521Spencer PigotUSAEd Carpenter Racing1:10.8275
1630Takuma SatoJAPRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing1:10.8393
1726Zach VeachUSAAndretti Autosport1:10.8407
1820Ed JonesUAEEd Carpenter Racing1:10.9806
1918Sebastien BourdaisFRADale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan1:11.0095
2023Charlie KimballUSACarlin1:10.9865
2114Tony KanaanBRAA.J. Foyt Enterprises1:11.2454
2298Marco AndrettiUSAAndretti Herta1:11.0527
234Matheus LeistBRAA.J. Foyt Enterprises1:11.5180
2460Jack HarveyGBRMeyer Shank Racing1:11.2710

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