A trio of NTT IndyCar Series championship contenders facing challenging starting positions in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland was the only thing to possibly upstage what rookie Colton Herta did at Portland International Raceway.
Herta, the second-generation Indy car standout driving for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, put his No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda on the pole for the second time this season. Herta won the NTT P1 Award by besting pole whiz Will Power of Team Penske (No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet) with a final lap of 57.8111 seconds (122.302 mph).
Power, who said he flat-spotted his tires on the next-to-last lap of the Firestone Fast Six round, settled for a lap of 57.8303 seconds (122.261 mph) as the two drivers exchanged the top spot three times in the final seconds of qualifying.
RESULTS: Grand Prix of Portland qualifying
“We left it right until the end, so everyone was all tense, and I think that made it much sweeter,” Herta said. “Before I knew we won the pole position, I went on the radio and heard everyone cheering so to find out that way was really cool.”
Herta, 19, became the youngest pole winner in Indy car history when he topped qualifying June 22 at Road America. He became the youngest race winner when he took the checkered flag March 24 at Circuit of The Americas.
Meanwhile, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda) was the only member of the four championship contenders to reach the Firestone Fast Six. He qualified third at 57.8355 seconds (122.250 mph), meaning the top three qualifiers had best laps separated by 0.0244 of a second.
The top three in the standings — Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet) and Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Chevrolet) of Team Penske along with Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) – all struggled in qualifying. Newgarden and Pagenaud didn’t advance from the first round of knockout qualifying and will start 13th and 18th, respectively, in a 23-car field. Rossi qualified seventh.
Given the narrowness of the 12-turn, 1.964-mile circuit and its imposing first corner, all three must be alert to first-lap trouble that has collected so many talented drivers in the past. Last year, a crash in Turn 3 collected five cars, including Dixon, who somehow kept his engine running and emerged from the heavy cloud of dust to stay on the lead lap. He finished fifth even with a pit road speeding penalty.
“You always have to believe – and you have to fight,” Pagenaud said. “Anything can happen; we saw that last year.”
Newgarden enters Sunday’s 105-lap race with a 38-point lead over Pagenaud. His margin over Rossi is 46 points, and 70 ahead of Dixon.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Newgarden said of qualifying. “You just can’t make a mistake, and I made a couple of them there. I got wide on the curb coming off (Turn) 7 and probably dropped a tenth (of a second) on one lap and dropped another tenth on the final corner on the next.
“It was going to be close and you just can’t afford (to lose) a tenth. That’s Portland. That’s how it was last year; I knew it was going to be the same this year.”
Rossi missed advancing to the Firestone Fast Six by 0.0277 seconds.
“It’s another indication of how close the NTT IndyCar Series is,” he said. “You’ve got to nail it every lap of every session. We missed it, but we’ll have to get after it tonight and make it better.”
Sunday’s live race coverage on NBC begins at 3 p.m. ET (noon PT local) with the green flag at approximately 3:45 p.m. Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).
The Grand Prix of Portland is the penultimate race of the NTT IndyCar Series season. The 17th and final race will be the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday, Sept. 22.