Colton Herta delivered a monstrous performance to set a new track record en route to pole for Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The 22-year-old California native and defending race winner was strong throughout the two previous practice sessions, and backed it up with a flying lap at 1m05.0395s around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit, shattering the previous track record of 1m06.2254s.
“I mean, as a young kid, I always dreamed of being an IndyCar driver and that’s because of this race,” said Herta, driver of the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda. “And so, finally to get the win last year was amazing and we checked another box off today with the pole. It feels incredible.”
Herta acknowledged his confidence level “feels good” entering tomorrow, but also mentioned the Firestone alternate (red sidewall) tires are tricky to figure out.
“You know, the car feels very different to St. Pete on these red tires, which are the exact same ones,” Herta said. “So it’s interesting. It’s a weird puzzle to find out, but it seems like we have a good car right now and we’ll try some stuff and try to help the car out a, a little bit tomorrow in the warmup and then see how we go in the race.”
The most significant drama was saved for the end when Romain Grosjean, who had the second-fastest time, was on a flying lap and pushing dethrone his Andretti Autosport teammate from the top spot when he ended up pushing through Turn 5 and broke the left rear toe link and pounded the outside tire barriers.
The result was a red flag with just two seconds remaining, which took away Grosjean’s fastest two laps as a result and demoting him to sixth. Additionally, following the rule book to allow a full six minutes for the Firestone Fast Six round, Race Control allowed each of the participants one additional lap once the track was restarted.
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Only Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist made an attempt, with both ultimately aborting the lap.
With Grosjean’s infraction, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden ended up second, followed by Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing. Rosenqvist and Rossi ended up fourth and fifth, respectively, ahead of Grosjean.
Team Penske’s Will Power was the first driver on the outside looking in, narrowly missing out of the Fast Six and ending up seventh. Marcus Ericsson, Scott McLaughlin and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the rest of the top 10.
Pato O’Ward was on a stout lap that was on pace to advance into the fight for pole, but went wide at hairpin and lost enough time to leave him out of the Fast Six and 11th overall. A.J. Foyt Racing’s Kyle Kirkwood was the best among all rookies in 12th.
Notable names that will be forced to charge through the field for a good result tomorrow include Graham Rahal in 13th, Helio Castroneves in 14th, and Scott Dixon in 16th.
Jimmie Johnson, who suffered a fractured hand after crashing on Friday, ended up qualifying 25th out of 26 cars.
Up Next: A 30-minute warmup session on Sunday at noon ET, with live coverage on Peacock and the IndyCar Radio Network.