Photo: Colton Herta after his win at St. Pete
From the practice results and the early qualifying rounds, it was pretrty clear that Colton Herta would win the pole for tomorrow’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. The shock was two fold- His margin over Scott Dixon- more than a half second- big by Indycar qualifying standards- and this pole winning lap time-0 1:13.683. Looking at yesterday’s and this morning practice times, I though a lap in the 1 minute 14 seconds range would take the pole. I certainly didn’t expect a lap below 1:14.
Herta finished second in his round 1 qualifying group without going to the alternate red tires. Because of a late red flag in the morning practice, no one got many laps on the reds. Herta then had two sets of freshc reds for the final two rounds of qualifying.
The Andretti Autosport driver will be making his fifth front row start this season, and fourth in a row. Today’s pole is Herta’s second in 2021. He won the pole at St. Pete and ran away from the field in a dominating win. He has won from the pole the lastr three times he started at the point.
Herta is becoming a qualifier in the mold of Will Power. he is always a threat for the Fast Six and can never be counted out for the front row. Speaking of Power, it is hard to believe he has yet to win a pole this season.
Some of the pole drama was lost when Josef Newgarden crashed in turn 10 just as the second round was ending. Newgarden was fast enough to make the Fast Six, but the crash wiped out his best lap. He will start 12th. Newgarden had not shown much pace in practice, but his car was beginning to come alive in qualifying. He has to be a bit frustrated at how his hometown race has gone so far.
Alex Palou, the series points leader, qualified third but will start 9th because of an unauthorized engine change at the test in Portland. I think he is still in good shape He actually gains because none of his closest competitiors won the bonus point for pole.
If there aren’t a lot of yellows or red flags tomorrow, which is iffy, I look for Herta to disappear from the field’s view at the start and not be caught. Given the craziness we’ve seen so far this weekend, that may not happen.
Romain Grosjean continues his quality qualifying. He made the Fast Six at Newgarden’s expense, but it was another top 10 effort from the rookie who may be bound for bigger things kin the series next year.
Grandstand 6 was nearing completion by the end of Indycar qualifying, but the fans who purchased tickets for arguably some of the best views of the track were unable to use their seats for the second day in a row. It appears the stand should be ready for the race tomorrow. The Grand Prix is issuing refunds, but several of the fans I talked to who had tickets in that stand are not happy.
There have been long lines at the ticket resolution windows as well. Some people have had trouble accessing their mobile tickets. I did as well, and it still takes me a couple of tries to find them. I think it was a mistake to have ticket access through the Tennessee Titans team app. A direct link sent via email like Gateway and some other tracks do would be much simpler and reliable.
Today’s crowd was bigger than the Friday crowd. The gas station which was closed for the weekend was packed with viewers.