Defending champ Colton Herta wins the pole – San Bernardino Sun

LONG BEACH — Colton Herta of Santa Clarita had raced only twice at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach ahead of this weekend’s NTT IndyCar event. But he won the race in 2021 and perhaps that gave him the confidence he showed Saturday when he won the pole position for Sunday’s race.

The 85-lap race is scheduled to begin at 12:45 p.m.

Herta broke the track record with a fastest lap of 1:05.3095 during the Fast Six round of knockout qualifying.

Josef Newgarden (Team Penske) will start second, defending series champion Alex Palou (Chip Ganassi Racing) will be third, Felix Rosenqvist (Arrow McLaren SP) will start fourth, two-time Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) fifth and Romain Grosjean (Andretti Autosport) sixth.

The previous track record of 1:06.2254 was set by Helio Castroneves in 2017. Castroneves, of Meyer Shank Racing, will start 14th Sunday. His best qualifying lap, which came in the first segment, was 1:06.2467. He did not advance into the Top 12.

Knockout qualifying starts with two groups of 13 cars going out for 10 minutes each. The top six in each group advance to the Top 12 for a second 10-minute session, with the top six going into the final six-minute round known as the Fast Six.

A red flag created by Grosjean going into the tires at Turn 5 left two seconds on the clock in the final round. A rule that states drivers are guaranteed six minutes of green racing meant drivers could go one more lap.

Only Rosenqvist and Rossi chose get back into their cars and go out again, and neither was able to beat Herta’s time.

“I have never really heard of that rule,” a confused Herta said afterward. “I don’t think it’s ever really been put into effect.”

He was asked if he was concerned he could be replaced atop the pole with that extra lap.

“I had no clue,” he said. “Anything could happen.”

Grosjean did not have an official time recorded in the Fast Six session. Newgarden’s time was 1:05.7550, Palou was at 1:05.8667, Rosenqvist came in at 1:05.9349 and Rossi’s best time was 1:06.0674.

This was the eighth career IndyCar pole position for Herta, who just turned 22 on March 30.

“Yesterday was a struggle for us,” said Herta, of Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian. He had the sixth-fastest practice time of 1:07.8783 on Friday, but went 1:05.6971 in the Saturday morning practice ahead of qualifying.

“So we kind of went to the drawing board overnight and brought something completely different out for today and it worked really well, so I was really happy with it.”

He said the 2021 victory here in September did provide some added self-assurance.

“Yeah, it’s great,” Herta said. “It just kind of shows you can do it, so it gives you that little bit of confidence. Also what’s good is the temperature. It seems like it’s going to be similar to when we we here last time. So, hopefully, that helps us out a little bit more and take care of the tires in that sense.”

The temperature at the beginning of the 12:05 p.m. qualifying was 70 degrees. It was 95 degrees Friday at the first practice session, which began about 3:30 p.m.

“I mean, just the car when you went out this morning was way different,” Herta said of the difference in temperature.

As for the quick lap times, the drivers conceded they are not entirely sure why. But Newgarden had some thoughts on what appears to be some kind of sealant on the track.

“There is definitely a coating on the track that seems to be resonating throughout the entire track,” he said. “The whole track is quicker.”

There is more grip than usual, he said.

“It’s shocking how much quicker it is,” Newgarden said. “It’s a big difference.”

Rossi was pleased with his position, and Andretti Autosport as a whole.

“Yeah, I think it was a good day for the team, obviously,” said Rossi, who won here in 2018 and 2019. “With Colton on the pole, that’s great for Andretti Autosport. We’ve been strong all weekend. It was a little bit of a missed opportunity to be fifth instead of potentially second or third with that red flag, but such is life, such is IndyCar racing.

“It’s a good spot for tomorrow and, yeah, like I said I think the car’s really good, so looking forward to it.”

Qualifying seventh through 10th were Will Power (Team Penske), Marcus Ericsson (Chip Ganassi Racing), Scott McLaughlin (Team Penske) and Simon Pagenaud (Meyer Shank Racing).

NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson raced with a splint on his right hand as a result of an injury incurred at Friday’s initial practice. He sustained a broken bone on the pinky finger of his right hand.

He still practiced Saturday morning and also qualified later in the day, but did not advance out of the first round of knockout qualifying. He is slated to start 25th on Sunday.

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