Herta wins La­guna Seca pole

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Numbers Game - By JENNA FRYER

MON­TEREY — Colton Herta shifted the spot­light away from IndyCar’s cham­pi­onship race with yet an­other mas­ter­ful drive around La­guna Seca Race­way.

The 19-year-old rookie won the pole for Sun­day’s sea­son-end­ing race roughly an hour af­ter An­dretti Au­tosport said it was pulling Herta inside its or­ga­ni­za­tion next sea­son. It’s capped a mas­ter­ful de­but week­end at La­guna Seca for Herta, who has been one of the fastest drivers in ev­ery ses­sion.

His win this sea­son days be­fore his 19th birth­day made him IndyCar’s youngest win­ner, and Satur­day’s pole was his third of the sea­son. His fa­ther, Bryan, is a two-time win­ner at La­guna Seca and won three poles at the track, which re­turned to the IndyCar sched­ule this year af­ter a 14-year ab­sence.

“Good genes,” Herta said of his abil­ity to nav­i­gate around the 11-turn, 2.258-mile per­ma­nent course. “It means a lot to keep on the fam­ily tra­di­tion.”

Herta stacked all four of the ti­tle con­tenders be­hind him with his fast qual­i­fy­ing lap.

Scott Dixon qual­i­fied sec­ond and was fol­lowed by Alexan­der Rossi and Josef New­gar­den. James Hinch­cliffe, who is not in the cham­pi­onship hunt, was fifth. In­di­anapo­lis 500 win­ner Si­mon Pa­ge­naud was sixth and lowest of the ti­tle con­tenders.

New­gar­den has a 41-point lead over Rossi in the cham­pi­onship stand­ings, and Sun­day’s race is worth dou­ble points. Be­cause Herta won the pole, he de­nied the ti­tle con­tenders the bonus point re­ward they could have used in their cham­pi­onship fight.

But that point is crit­i­cal for what has be­come an en­tic­ing race for rookie of the year among three drivers who seem des­tined for IndyCar star­dom. Herta is third in the rookie stand­ings be­hind Felix Rosen­qvist and Santino Fer­rucci, who have also been ex­cep­tion­ally fast all week­end — so fast that many thought Rosen­qvist was a threat for the pole.

In­stead, he was left fum­ing af­ter qual­i­fy­ing be­cause he was pe­nal­ized dur­ing his run for bring­ing out a lo­cal yel­low and in­ter­fer­ing with an­other driver’s qual­i­fy­ing lap. The pun­ish­ment pre­vented him from ad­vanc­ing into the next round and ru­ined what he ex­pected to be a strong start­ing spot.

The Swede railed against the de­ci­sion and won­dered if IndyCar had de­lib­er­ately punished him to help Herta win rookie of the year.

“I don’t know what they’re think­ing. That lap didn’t mean any­thing for any­one. I had a spin. Then they’re say­ing I blocked some­one while I was spin­ning,” Rosen­qvist said. “We’ve been work­ing for three days for this mo­ment. We had the fastest time on track. The guys just did an in­cred­i­ble job. I think it’s pretty un­fair for them to just take that away.

“They ru­ined our day. I don’t why. Maybe some­one has some­thing against me. Or they want Herta to win the rookie cham­pi­onship, what­ever. But I guess I have to re­group for the race and find a good strat­egy start­ing from the back.”

Fer­rucci qual­i­fied 12th and Rosen­qvist was 14th, lowest of the rookie con­tenders. Even the cham­pi­onship con­tenders were sur­prised that Rosen­qvist won’t be at the front when the race be­gins.

“To be fair to Felix, he has been fast all week­end,” New­gar­den said. “He prob­a­bly would have been in con­tention for the pole. Just on merit, he prob­a­bly should have been up there.”

In­stead, it will be Herta lead­ing the field to green with all four ti­tle con­tenders anx­ious to get to the front and win the race. New­gar­den needs only to fin­ish fourth or bet­ter to win his sec­ond ti­tle in three years for Team Penske no mat­ter what his three chal­lengers do Sun­day.

As­so­ci­ated Press

BIG TEST In a May 14 photo, Colton Herta dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion for the In­di­anapo­lis 500 IndyCar at In­di­anapo­lis Motor Speedway, in In­di­anapo­lis.

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