Paddock Buzz: Herta’s qualifying crunch precious

Paddock Buzz: Herta's qualifying crunch precious

Colton Herta was once again in the spotlight in Nashville, but this time his contact with a tire barrier hurt more than his chances of winning Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.

Herta’s incident late in the first group of Saturday’s qualifying session raised the red flag and there was not enough time to resume the session. Several drivers, including Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi, were on their best laps and were unable to finish them. They didn’t get any further that way.

Rossi was clearly annoyed and walked back to the transporter with his helmet on. All Herta could do was apologize.

“That was just a little too ambitious for what the conditions were,” Herta said. “I think after it rained a lot (in the afternoon) that (tyre) grip went a bit off. I’m just trying to find the right braking point and exaggerating.

“It’s hard when you put these (alternative tires) on and they’re (optimal) for one or two laps – you really have to go after them. I apologize to my team, especially to (Michael) Andretti because I probably did (hurt) Rossi pretty well there and probably a few other guys.

“I’m not trying to do that on purpose, and it’s really an honest mistake. I feel sorry for everyone involved.”

The red flag at the end of the session led to mixed results, with several top drivers not progressing to the second round. Simon Pagenaud (No.60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing), Felix Rosenqvist (No.7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) and Rossi (No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) are the most notable. They will start the 80-lap race on Sunday (3:00 p.m. ET, NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network) in positions 13th, 15th and 17th, respectively.

Herta starts on the 21st. Last year, his contact with the tire barrier came in Turn 9 as he chased race leader Marcus Ericsson with six laps to go. Ericsson went on to take his second career win.

Harvey, Kellett benefit from caution

The red flag for Herta’s mistake was the break needed by a few drivers in that group, including Jack Harvey (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan) and Dalton Kellett (No. 4 K-LINE/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet ).

Harvey reached the top 12 for the third time in the past four races. He will finish 11th.

Kellett took the top starting position of his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career in 12th place. His previous best was 14th in this year’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“We made the right decision (with alternate tires on consecutive runs) for that Q1 session and managed to switch (and) that was one of our goals for the year and very happy to be able to do it here in Nashville make it happen,” Kellett said. . “INDYCAR races are 100 percent (driven by good) track position. To be able to start further up the grid is a really big advantage for us.

“This is probably going to be a tough race; we will have to put our best foot forward tomorrow. I look forward to putting on a good show.”

Harvey’s performance was part of a team-wide effort for an RLL organization that has quietly produced better form in recent races. All three team cars qualified in the top 12, with rookie Christian Lundgaard taking third on the grid despite a drive-through pit road penalty for causing a local yellow.

Lundgaard has qualified in the Firestone Fast Six in two consecutive races. He started sixth and finished second in last month’s Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES podium finish of his career.

A hot summer day

Before the rain came Saturday, the weather in Nashville was downright steamy: 92 degrees for afternoon practice with high humidity. Or, as JJ Sebastianelli put it on the INDYCAR Radio Network, “air you can wear”.

The drivers certainly felt the effect, and that was with short runs on the temporary street circuit of 11 corners and 2.1 miles. The real difficulty will come at an 80-lap race on Sunday, as conditions are expected to be similar.

“It is is called inside of the car, and the worst part is honestly half the track — turns 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 there’s no airflow at all,” said Pato O’Ward. “When I got out of the car ( Friday), I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of a race car even after an accident (like that). I compared it to a race in Iowa (Speedway). It was extreme hot.”

The driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet said he won’t be wearing any of the torso-covering cool suits either. Nor will Scott McLaughlin, who will start on the pole.

“I’ve had too many failures (while racing) in Australia,” said McLaughlin, the driver of the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet. “I’m going for naturally aspirated and try to rely on the top channel and air fin.”

NBC analyst James Hinchcliffe said a better description of McLaughlin was “naturally perspiring.”

Said McLaughlin: “It’s very hot out there, but we’re training for this. It’s humid, that’s probably the hardest thing for us as drivers at the moment, but I’m feeling pretty good.”

Even after the rain it was warm. Takuma Sato said, “I’ve only done six laps, but I’m sweating like I just got out of the shower.”

Newgarden: event well received locally

Year 2 of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix felt like year 1 for the driver who knows the city best.

“It looks to me as popular as it did last year,” said Nashville resident and resident Josef Newgarden. “Honestly, I heard nothing but rave reviews from the locals here.

“Everyone who came to this event (last year) says they had a great time. They noticed there were some issues with the race – there were a lot of yellows – but as far as the event goes, they said ‘We loved it, we had a blast, we thought (the promoter) put on a great event, and we had a really good time.”

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is expected to return to the city in 2023.

“I have a positive feeling about where (the event) is going,” said Newgarden, who will start sixth in the #2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. “I really don’t see a negative point in it.”

Added shortcut to track flow

An adjustment has been made to the run-out area at Turn 1, giving drivers the option to re-enter the field without assistance from the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team.

A shorter link now connects Turns 1 and 3, although if used in Sunday’s race track position will be lost. A safe return is the responsibility of the driver and his team, and any unsafe behavior in the area may be punished.

Odds and Ends

  • Scott McLaughlin took his record of 61st pole as a member of Team Penske, breaking a tie with Helio Castroneves for most poles by a Penske driver. McLaughlin earned his first 59 Poles as a member of the organization’s Australian V8 Supercars team, winning three consecutive season championships from 2018-20.
  • The two drivers at the top of the points standings, Will Power and Marcus Ericsson, will be deeper in the pack than they’d like when the green flag falls at about 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. Power will start eighth in the Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, number 12, after losing his fastest qualifying lap for causing a local yellow card. Ericsson rolls away in 18th place in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Power leads Ericsson by nine points with four races to go.
  • Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean (No. 28 DHL Honda) will start on the front row for only the second time in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career. He took pole for his third race, the 2021 GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
  • Lundgaard wasn’t the only rookie to excel in Saturday’s qualifying. David Malukas (No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD) took the No. 7 starting position. He has started in the top eight in five of the past eight races.
  • Lundgaard and Malukas are among the six NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers competing at this track for the first time. The others are fellow rookies Kyle Kirkwood, Callum Ilott and Devlin DeFrancesco, and veteran Simona De Silvestro.
  • Two-time INDYCAR Champion Al Unser Jr. was working at the track on Saturday as an analyst for the Trans Am race.
  • Given the 90-minute weather delay in the afternoon, the decision was made to cancel qualifying for Sunday’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race and set the grid based on season participants.
  • Series leader Linus Lundqvist will start at the Indy Lights pole in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry. He has won four of the nine races in the series this season and is 77 points ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Hunter McElrea, who has won the past two races (at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Iowa Speedway).
  • This will be the first Indy Lights race on Nashville’s temporary street circuit. The green flag is set at 1:10 p.m. ET, with a live broadcast on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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