Local product Colton Herta wins pole position for Grand Prix of Long Beach
The golden boy of the IndyCar Series loves the Golden State.
Colton Herta, the Valencia native and true wunderkind of U.S. open-wheel racing, won the pole Saturday for the 47th Grand Prix of Long Beach. Yes, it’s the race with which he grew up. Yes, it’s the race he won in September.
And yes, it’s the race he’s favored to win Sunday when the green flag drops on Shoreline Drive.
It is the latest in a remarkable stretch of dominance Herta has flexed in California sunshine. He closed the 2021 season with back-to-back victories at Laguna Seca in the penultimate race and at Long Beach in the season ender. He also won the 2019 race at Laguna Seca, giving him three consecutive victories in California.
With temperatures much cooler than they were during Friday’s practice, when the track temperature was 133 degrees, Herta won qualifying with a track-record time of 1 minute 05.3095 seconds and a speed of 108.80 mph on the 11-turn, 1.988-mile street layout.
Herta, 22, was one of nine drivers who pipped Helio Castroneves’ qualifying record from 2017 when he clicked off a 1:06.22. Herta’s advantage Saturday was that he went an extra lap on the harder compound black tires, thereby saving a lap on the faster and softer red-sidewall Firestones.
“We had a great car,” Herta said. “Yesterday was a struggle for us. We kind of went to the drawing board overnight, brought something completely different out for today. It worked really well. I was really happy with it.”
The Long Beach Grand Prix is considered the biggest race of the IndyCar season after the Indy 500, and the drivers would like nothing more than a win Sunday.
That sentiment could be expressed throughout most of Andretti Autosport, which placed three drivers in the Fast Six qualifying format. Herta teammate Alexander Rossi qualified fifth and Romain Grosjean sixth after having his best two laps wiped out because of a yellow flag he created when he punched the tire barrier in Turn 4. Grosjean was second quickest at the time and appeared to be on a lap that could have displaced Herta.
Herta will be joined on the front row by Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who was four-tenths behind Herta at 1:05.7550 and 107.745 mph after the Grosjean penalty.
The third row is composed of defending series champion Alex Palou and Arrow McLaren SP’s Felix Rosenqvist. Four of the top six cars are Honda-powered with Power and Rosenqvist using Chevy, which produced the first two winners of the season.
Newgarden, who is coming off a thrilling victory at Texas Motor Speedway with his last lap Turn 4 pass of teammate (and St. Petersburg winner) Scott McLaughlin, spoke glowingly of how impressive the Andretti cars have been this weekend.
“It’s going to be tough to overhaul these guys,” he said. “I think they’ve got a great package around here, clearly, as evidenced by the Fast 6. You can see across the board with their cars, they’re very good.
The field is hoping to prevent Herta from dominating like he did in September, when the race was postponed to the end of the season by COVID-19. Herta started 14th and then put on a masterclass en route to victory, proving in the process that it is possible to pass cars.
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Long Beach is clearly special to Herta. “I grew up around here,” said the son of four-time winner IndyCar winner Bryan Herta. “It was my first IndyCar race. It was the track that made me fall in love with IndyCar racing because it was the one West Coast race a year that I would go to.”
Newgarden has finished second the last two races at Long Beach and was on the pole seven months ago. But he’ll be fighting Andretti tradition. Michael Andretti’s drivers have won the last three races at Long Beach, including Rossi’s dominant wins in 2018 and 2019. He knows that Herta could dust the field.
“These races play out in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s a straightforward race day, and sometimes it’s not. We don’t know what [Sunday] is going to bring. We’ll be ready to put our best foot forward. ...
“My job is to not let him check out. I don’t think that’s guaranteed yet, but it’s possible. But I’m going to make sure he doesn’t.”
Sebastien Bourdais’ DPi track record in qualifying didn’t mean much after he ended up in the wall after encountering lapped traffic at the hairpin six minutes into the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. By the time he found reverse and restarted after a stall — and memories of last-place finishes in the first two races clouded the pit box — he was 21 seconds down.
But then Bourdais put on a masterclass. Thirty-five minutes into the 100-minute race, he had wiped out the deficit and passed Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Lynn for the lead, which he handed off to Renger van der Zande with 50 minutes to go as the duo led a 1-2 finish in Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs. Van der Zande finished 3.761 seconds ahead of Earl Bamber, who took over for Lynn.
“We learned something today,” Van der Zande said. “Don’t make a Frenchman angry.”
Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia won GTD Pro for Corvette Racing by finishing seventh overall, and Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers won GTD for Heart of Racing Team in an Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
Max Gordon, the 13-year-old son of Robby Gordon, passed Robert Stout at the hairpin and won his first race in the Super Trucks Series. Robby finished second. The move was in response to Stout’s pass of Gordon a few laps earlier. Robby Gordon finished second and Stout third.
“I’m more proud today than I was when I won my first race,” said Robby Gordon, who has won IndyCar, NASCAR, Sports Car, and SCORE International off-road races.
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