AUSTIN, Texas – Colton Herta shook off the early misfortunes of INDYCAR Classic weekend to qualify fourth for Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series race at Circuit of The Americas.
The 18-year-old California native was enduring a roller-coaster weekend after his car suffered a mechanical failure in opening practice on Friday. As a result, the crew of the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda scrambled to change engines and Herta missed the entire second practice that day.
The efforts were rewarded in NTT P1 Award qualifying, however. Herta advanced to his first Firestone Fast Six and posted the fourth-best lap in the eight-minute session to earn the starting spot on the outside of Row 2 for Sunday’s 60-lap race.
“I think we kind of showed that our practice pace was true here, that we had in February,” Herta said, referring to the two-day INDYCAR open test when he was fastest overall. “It's unfortunate that we can't go for the $100,000 (bonus offered if the pole sitter wins the race) like Will (Power) can, but we can still go for the race win.”
The second-generation Indy car drivers was relieved to have some normalcy on Saturday, which allowed a shot to fight towards the sharper end of the grid. He turned a lap of 1 minute, 46.3594 seconds (115.420 mph) in the Firestone Fast Six, less than four-tenths of a second off Power’s pole-winning pace on the demanding 3.41-mile permanent road course.
“Super important (to make the Firestone Fast Six),” Herta said. “I think we were kind of good on old tires at the test, so you knew our race pace was going good. It was a question mark on the qualifying pace this weekend. To show we had the pace during qualifying is really reassuring because I know we can back it up in the race.”
Paddock talk has focused on the challenges of tire degradation at Circuit of The Americas with the Firestone Firehawks. Herta is already relying on experience gained during his championship runner-up campaign last season in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires – the top rung of the Road to Indy development ladder.
“Having 45 minutes on one stint of tires (in Indy Lights) helps,” Herta said. “The degradation is going to be pretty big this weekend. I think everybody kind of knows that, and that's really prepared me for it, as well.
“Racing on old tires is a lot tougher because there's a lot more of a margin for error. You make a smaller mistake on old tires, and it makes a bigger difference.”
Sunday's 60-lap race is the first for the NTT IndyCar Series at Circuit of The Americas. Live coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Live timing and scoring can be found at RaceControl.IndyCar.com.