2020 Race Season Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey NTT IndyCar Series

Herta Speeds to Third Pole of Season in Return to Laguna Seca

Story Credit: Jared DePouw
Photo Credit: INDYCAR Photo

MONTEREY, Calif. – The final Firestone Fast Six qualifying of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series would also be the most important of the year. WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is one of those tracks where passing is difficult, which places a premium on qualifying. Out of the 22 Indy car races at Laguna Seca, fourteen of them have been won from the pole position. Further compounding the drama in qualifying, all four of the championship contenders would be placed in the first qualifying group of Round 1.

Qualifying would start with both AJ Foyt cars starting on alternate (red) tires and the rest of the field on primary (black) tires. Once the rest of the field made the switch to alternate tires, lap times dropped fast. Simon Pagenaud would encounter traffic on his first fast lap on alternate tires. By the end of the session, all four championship contenders would advance to Round 2 along with Max Chilton and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

While not sporting any championship contenders, Group 1 did feature some high caliber names in qualifying such as Will Power and Colton Herta. The second group would feature some drama as Felix Rosenqvist would spin after getting off the road exiting Turn 6. That spin would create a local yellow, causing James Hinchcliffe to slow down. Rosenqvist would be penalized for qualifying interference and would not be allowed to advance. Most unfortunate for Rosenqvist was that despite having his two fastest laps invalidated, he still posted the 4th quickest lap of the session but wasn’t allowed to advance.

“That lap didn’t mean anything” said Rosenqvist in protest of the penalty. “They ruined my day, I don’t know why. Maybe they want [Colton] Herta to win the [rookie] championship.”

Round 2 of qualifying would again see all four championship contenders advance, with Pagenaud barely scraping by after going off-track on two of his three alternate tire laps. The other two drivers advancing to the Firestone Fast Six were Herta and Hinchcliffe.

There would be little drama in the Firestone Fast Six. However, Newgarden would end up ruining his chances at pole on his final lap when he went wide in Turn 1 to end up starting 4th. Pole would end up going to rookie Colton Herta, his 3rd pole of the season (Road America & Portland).

“We saved our good tires for the second one, and we were up there going into Turn 2 and I just pushed a little too hard” said championship leader Newgarden of his qualifying. “I went really, really deep. That’s an area I’ve been working on all weekend, so I kind of just gave everything I had there and it was too much, and it was kind of a one-lap deal, so I aborted after that, and that was it. But we’re in the top six, which was good. I knew I had a lap to kind of lean on if everything went bad in that second run, so that’s what we’re going to do now; we’ll start fourth, which is pretty solid for us for tomorrow.”

Jared DePouw
Jared is the founder of RealOpenWheel.com but works as a small business accountant. He also officiates high school football and lacrosse in his free time.