Herta wins pole as repaved track produces eventful qualifying day at Road America
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — The venue that bills itself as “America’s National Park of Speed” is delivering faster times after its first repaving in nearly three decades.
It's also producing a bit more frustration.
Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport earned the pole position for Sunday’s IndyCar Series race at Road America by posting a fastest lap of 1 minute, 40.1945 seconds on this 14-turn, 4.014-mile road course. That’s over 4 1/2 seconds faster than the time Alexander Rossi ran to earn the pole for last year’s event.
Pato O’Ward qualified second and was followed in order by points leader Alex Palou, defending Road America champion Josef Newgarden and Rossi.
Yet even Herta acknowledged afterward the challenges caused by this sprawling Wisconsin course's first repaving since 1995. Drivers have discovered they're in serious trouble if they go even slightly off course.
“For me, it’s a very strange feeling at the wheel,” Herta said. "I think it shows by how many guys have been kind of trickling off the track, just having weird spins.”
The situation caused some tempers to boil over.
A tumultuous Saturday morning practice session featuring five red flags, including a crash that resulted in reigning IndyCar champion Will Power shoving six-time series champion Scott Dixon.
“This track’s terrible when you go off it,” Power said after qualifying 22nd in the 27-person field. “They do a terrible job here. They need to pick up their game. Any way you go off, you almost break your back every time. I’ve done it a couple of times this weekend. Need a kick in the butt for this place.”
The changes also brought praise from some drivers.
O'Ward said that “it’s been a real joy to drive this new repaved track” while adding that it also creates some challenges that make it tough to predict exactly how Sunday's race will go.
“There's maybe a lane-and-a-half of, like, very high grip,” O'Ward said. “But you go off of that, and it’s like ice. I think that’s also why there’s just been a lot of excursions. You miss it by just a tad, and it’s like, ‘What happened to the car?’”
POWER'S TOUGH DAY
Power’s issues began during Saturday morning’s practice.
Dixon had spun on course and re-entered the track ahead of Romain Grosjean and power. Dixon allowed enough room for Grosjean to get by, but as Power approached the gap closed and Power couldn’t avoid hitting Dixon.
The two cars spun off course and Power slammed into a concrete wall. Power then got out of his car, exchanged words with Dixon and shoved him in the chest.
“Scott moved abruptly and I was coming,” Power said. “It’s a very unfortunate incident. Nothing I could really do there. Didn’t expect him to move.”
Dixon acknowledged he was at fault.
“Didn’t realize Power was even there,” Dixon said. “I’m really sorry for him and obviously his team. Mistake on my behalf.”
Power was still upset Saturday afternoon. His anger wasn’t solely directed at Dixon.
“Grosjean is a piece of crap, if you saw what he did in practice,” Power said. “He needs a punch in the face.”
HERTA'S BIG DAY
Herta went off course during his Saturday morning practice before rebounding in the afternoon to earn his 10th career pole, but first this year. Herta hadn't qualified better than 14th in any of his last four events.
“I forgot what a media center looked like, I’ve been qualifying so poorly,” Herta quipped at his post-qualifying news conference.
Ryan Hunter-Reay is making his debut in the No. 20 Chevrolet this weekend after Ed Carpenter Racing had him take over for Conor Daly, who was ranked 20th in the points standings when he was let go.
“Conor is a friend,” Hunter-Reay said this week. “Honestly, I think he’s a great driver and I honestly think he’ll be back at some point, and I just hope that that is soon. This sport is brutal.”
Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner, was out of the IndyCar Series last year but finished 11th in this year’s Indy 500.
“When I look at this pragmatically, I look at it from a realist point of view,” Hunter-Reay said. “There’s not a silver bullet here. This is a matter of us looking at how we can approach things differently. How do you approach a qualifying session differently, a race weekend differently? How can we tweak some things?
“Maybe some of the things I used to do in the past weren’t right. Maybe some of the things they’re doing now aren’t right. Maybe we could come together and maybe take a path that way.”
ROAD AMERICA’S RESULTS
Road America has produced a different winner in each of its last five IndyCar events.
Newgarden is the defending champion and also won here in 2018. Alexander Rossi won in 2019. Road America hosted a doubleheader in 2020, with Dixon winning the first race and Felix Rosenqvist taking the second. Alex Palou won in 2021.
The two-time Road America winners in this year’s field are Newgarden and Dixon, who also won in 2017.
Chip Ganassi Racing had won three straight races here before Penske Racing’s Newgarden was victorious last year.
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