LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Colton Herta broke the Long Beach track record in qualifying on Saturday, and the California native will start from pole for his home IndyCar race.
Herta clocked a lap of 1 minute, 05.3095 seconds on the temporary urban course set up in downtown Long Beach to earn his eighth career pole and the right to lead the field to green on Sunday. The previous record was 1:06.2254 set by Helio Castroneves in 2017.
Herta, who hails from Valencia, is the defending winner and will be hoping to give Andretti Autosport its fourth straight victory in America’s most prestigious street race.
“As a young kid, I always trained to be an IndyCar driver and it was because of this race,” Herta said.
Herta led a quick session for Andretti, which saw him, 2018 and 2019 winner Alexander Rossi and Romain Grosjean advance to the final qualifying round. But as Grosjean chased Herta for pole, the former Formula 1 driver hit a tire barrier which brought the session to a screeching halt.
Herta celebrated by returning to the pit lane because he thought the session was over. Instead, IndyCar said there were 2 seconds left on the clock and would allow the drivers to get back on track for a final qualifying lap. Felix Rosenqvist and Rossi were the only two in the Fast Six to make another lap and no forward position.
Grosjean, who had been second fastest before crashing, set his fastest lap and dropped to sixth on the grid. That moved Josef Newgarden of Team Penske, winners at Texas in IndyCar’s last outing, to second overall.
Defending IndyCar champion Alex Palou qualified third for Chip Ganassi Racing, followed by Arrow McLaren SP’s Rosenqvist, Rossi and Grosjean.
“Man, the Andretti cars look really good. Not just Herta,” Newgarden said. “They’re going to be tough to beat.”
Jimmie Johnson, who broke his right hand in a crash on Friday during practice, wore a carbon fiber brace on it on Saturday and qualified 25th in the 26-car field. He also crashed in Saturday practice and set his two fastest laps in qualifying for hampering Graham Rahal as they merged on the racing surface.
“I control damage with my hand,” Johnson said. “I’m just going to have to work my way in, if I can, and I’m sure some attrition will come into play. Hopefully my hand will hold up and get me through the race, I can log laps. I need some points, I’m currently tied for 10th in the championship and would like to earn as many points as possible to stay as high up in the points as possible.
Jack Harvey, who suffered a concussion in an accident in Texas that caused him to miss that race, returned to competition at Long Beach and qualified 21st.
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