Colton Herta put in a scintillating performance to take pole position for the 38th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
With a new track record, Herta added the icing to his cake as Josef Newgarden gave Penske plenty of hope going into tomorrow’s race with second.
As the sunshine beat down Long Beach, qualifying for the 38th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach promised to be an exciting one as the series looked for its eighth different winner in 11 races.
Jimmie Johnson would participate in Qualifying despite suffering wrist damage in a Practice crash. But unfortunately, the former NASCAR champion also found the barrier in this morning’s session to add to his woes.
Devlin DeFrancesco would have a six-place grid penalty going into Qualifying after the Canadian was found responsible for causing a multi-car pileup in Texas.
Group one would consist of Johnson, DeFrancesco, Marcus Ericsson, Kyle Kirkwood, Felix Rosenqvist, Rinus Veekay, David Malukas, Graham Rahal, Jack Harvey and Takuma Sato. The big players in group one included championship winner Scott McLaughlin, last year’s winner Herta and his Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi.
Group two was chocked full of the series stars as Romain Grosjean, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Newgarden, Pato O’Ward, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, Conor Daly, Dalton Kellett would do battle with Callum Ilott, Tatiana Calderon and Christian Lundgaard for a place in the fast 12.
McLaughlin set the tempo in the opening stages of group one, qualifying with a 1:07.0857, over two tenths faster than Rosenqvist, who made a brief rendezvous with one of the circuit’s many escape roads forcing the Swede to do a full 360.
Herta then broke into the 1:06s with a 1:06.6653, over four-tenths faster than McLaughlin, whilst Malukas jumped up to third with a 1:07.1079.
As if a damaged wrist wasn’t bad enough, Johnson’s Qualifying was brought to a close after race control deemed him guilty of blocking Rahal, ending his day’s running early.
Rossi and Herta continued to turn up the taps on their final runs as both men broke into the 1:05s, with Herta over a tenth faster than Rossi. Further back, Kirkwood continued to shine for AJ Foyt Racing as he put his number 14 Rokit machine fifth fastest ahead of Ericsson, who just narrowly knocked Rahal out of Qualifying on his final run.
Veekay would join the penalized DeFrancesco, Malukas, Harvey, Sato and the struggling Johnson on the sidelines after the Dutchman failed to find the two-tenths needed to knock out Ericsson.
In group two, the Meyer Shank duo of Pagenaud and Castroneves set the early pace with a pair of 1:08s before improving on their next hot laps with a 1:06 for Pagenaud and Castroneves. But Meyer Shank’s dominance quickly eroded after Grosjean managed a 1:05.9796 to move himself to the front ahead of his countryman Pagenaud and O’Ward.
Pagenaud moved back to the front with a 1:05.8908 whilst Palou dug himself out of the dropzone with a 1:06.1452, which was good enough for fourth fastest and a place in the fast 12.
Power scraped into the second part of Qualifying on his final run with a 1:06.0788, knocking out Castroneves and Dixon, with Daly, Lundgaard, Ilott, Kellett and Calderon also being eliminated in the opening stage of Qualifying.
The fast 12 began with Pagenaud laying down a benchmark with his opening banker lap of 1:07.2932, but that time was quickly annihilated by Herta, as he broke into the 1:05s with a 1:05.9478 just over a tenth faster than McLaughlin.
Andretti took over at the front after the checkered flag out with Herta leading Rossi, whilst Rosenqvist surprised many paddock observers with third ahead of Palou, Newgarden and Grosjean.
Power missed out on the fast six by +0.001 with Ericsson out qualifying championship leader McLaughlin and early pace sitter Pagenaud. O’Ward’s last chance at getting into the fast 12 was squandered after he went wide into the final hairpin forcing the Mexican to settle for 11th.
First to get a lap banked was Rosenqvist with a 1:06.2590, whilst Rossi slashed over two tenths off the Swede’s time to go onto provisional pole until Palou managed a 1:05.8667 to go to the front.
But Herta wouldn’t be denied, and his last run of 1:05.3095 was good enough for provisional pole with Grosjean second until he lost the rear of his number 28 DHL machine, putting him in the barrier and having his lap time deleted as of a result with the red flag being brought out to retrieve the Frenchman’s car.
In a bizarre twist, the session was resumed with 0.2 seconds left; however, only Rosenqvist and Rossi were willing to take their chance to improve their lap time.
However, neither could improve with their extra lap, which meant Herta took pole position and the new track record in front of Newgarden and Palou, whilst Rosenqvist would line up an excellent fourth for Arrow McLaren SP. Rossi would start on the inside of row three alongside teammate Grosjean.
Power lines up on the inside of row four alongside Ericsson, whilst McLaughlin and Pagenaud would fill row five.