Rookie sensation Colton Herta showed impressive speed Friday on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course but applied it at the wrong time in qualifying, keeping him off the pole and relegating him to a start from the outside of Row 2.
While Will Power made headlines with the fastest lap in opening practice for the sixth running of the INDYCAR Grand Prix, the time didn’t hold up after the second 45-minute practice on the 2.439-mile road course. Herta, already an NTT IndyCar Series winner, narrowly missed dipping below 68 seconds with his 1:08.0393 — the fastest lap across both practice sessions.
The Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver maintained his momentum in knockout qualifying by posting the fastest lap in Round 1’s second group by 0.0562 seconds over Scott Dixon, easily advancing to the second round.
Herta’s masterful use of new Firestone Firehawk alternate tires in Round 2 resulted in the fastest lap of the weekend and the only one to cross into the 67-second range. Topping the timesheet with a 1:07.8887, he guaranteed his place in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap 0.130 seconds quicker than eventual pole sitter Felix Rosenqvist.
For the third round of qualifying, all six drivers went from using brand-new red-sidewalled tires to used rubber. While some were able to maximize the speed available from the scuffed alternates, Herta was slower in 11 of the track’s 12 sections and unable to put together a lap comparable to his Round 2 performance.
At the end of the Fast Six, Herta’s best lap was 0.4856 seconds slower than his second round performance while Rosenqvist’s similar transition from new to used tires dropped his time by 0.2597 seconds. The difference was small enough to give the Swedish driver his first career pole while Scott Dixon and Jack Harvey’s own efforts pushed Herta to fourth in the final results.
Perhaps more frustrating for Herta is that his ideal lap — a hypothetical time made up of all his best sections — would have beaten Rosenqvist’s pole time of 1:08.2785 by 0.0758 seconds. Unfortunately for Herta, a hypothetical lap doesn’t count when an NTT P1 Award is on the line.
IndyCar’s annual visit to the IMS road course favors the pole sitter who has gone to victory lane four times in five years, bringing the sting of missing out on pole into even sharper focus for Herta. Even so, a ray of hope exists: The anomalous year was the inaugural race in 2014 when Simon Pagenaud won from fourth on the grid — where Herta will take the green flag from at 3:50 p.m. EDT on Saturday.