Qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey has wrapped and it’s an all Andretti Autosport front-row lockout. Colton Herta is the pole-sitter for the race and has secured his third pole of the season. Herta also won from pole the last time IndyCar raced at Laguna Seca in 2019. Teammate Alexander Rossi will start in second position next to Herta. Both Andretti Autosport drivers have had a difficult season this year but have managed to stay in the top ten of the drivers’ standings. Herta is currently sixth and Rossi is tenth in the championship. However, after putting down the two fastest laps at the challenging and technical Laguna Seca track, both drivers exhibited what makes Andretti Autosport such a top-notch team.
In the post-qualifying press conference, Rossi spoke about how much it means to the team to have such a solid result
“It's great for the team to lock out the front row. I think that's a big testament to the development that continues to happen with the whole organization and the progression that we've made really since the summer break. It's a great result for the guys. “
“Obviously Colton did a great job. We knew he was going to be difficult to beat here, obviously winning from pole last year. We think we have a good shot at it tomorrow. We're happy with the car. We haven't made many changes this weekend. The used tire pace seems okay. We'll just wait and see what tomorrow brings.”
Herta echoed Rossi’s sentiment about the car and seems to be confident knowing that they have found the sweet spot with the tire wear on the demanding Laguna Seca track. He summarized his qualifying session:
“Yeah, great car to be honest. I think, like Alex said, you have to drive right to 100% at this track. The car always seems to be on the nose, especially in the third round when we're on used tires on a track that typically chews up tires. Yeah, you kind of have to be on that fine line. I guess that's where we both were today.”
The Laguna Seca track is a tough track to overtake, which makes qualifying so crucial. Out of the last twenty-three races, fifteen of those race winners started from pole, and four of those started from the second position. Both Herta and Rossi have the odds in their favor with ideal starting positions for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey and nothing to lose given that they are not in the running for the IndyCar championship.
The current championship leader Alex Palou on the other hand must take calculated or no risks if he wants to ensure that the title gap to Pato O ‘ Ward stays wide enough. Palou qualified fourth and O’Ward was sixth fastest. O’ Ward pushed hard during the qualifying and even spun out at the corkscrew but it didn’t stop him from praising the hard work his team put in for the grueling qualifying session. O’Ward is counting on the warm-up session before the race to fine-tune any changes they may need. After qualifying O’Ward stated:
"Honestly, I’m pleasantly surprised with our result in qualifying today. I’m happy with sixth. It’s a lot better than where we were at in the sessions before qualifying. The team did some good changes to the car and I’m happy with how I executed. We will see what we have for the race tomorrow. We just need to make the car and package better tomorrow during warm up to race against these guys."
When O’Ward was asked about starting close to Alex Palou for the race he replied:
“I’m a bit in the Ganassi group because I think Marcus (Ericsson) and Scott (Dixon) are in the row behind me. I guess we’ll have to see tomorrow.”
After delivering a solid start to the race weekend and being fastest for practice one, Josef Newgarden’s advantage diminished in practice two with a tenth palace finish then finally qualifying seventeenth for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. After his qualifying session ended before reaching the top twelve, Newgarden expressed his disappointment:
“Obviously, not the result we were looking for. We showed good pace yesterday and were on the right path this morning but we just missed in qualifying. Unfortunate as we’ve made things more difficult for ourselves. Regardless, we’re focused on doing everything we can to move forward and we’ll be ready to get to work tomorrow.”
The remainder of the championship contenders Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson will both start the race in the top ten next to each other. Ericsson qualified seventh fastest and Dixon will be right behind him starting eighth.
One thing to keep in mind for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey is that if any of the championship contenders fall fifty-five points or more from the leader after this race then they will be eliminated from the championship fight and can no longer earn enough points at the season finale in Long Beach for the Acura Grand Prix.
With the IndyCar championship on the line for the five title contenders, the Firestone Gand Prix of Monterey could be the deciding factor that makes or breaks their championship goals.