By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
MONTEREY, California – From second fastest in Thursday morning’s two-hour testing session to fastest in the four-hour afternoon session, 19-year-old Colton Herta once again got people noticing his raw talent.
This time being at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca where he set the top overall time of 1:10.0720, out performing Will Power by 0.4663 seconds. The rookie felt he was able to get a proper feel on the Firestone tires which was his goal in the combined six-hour session.
“It means a lot. We’re all trying to go for qualifying spec and see what the cars can do when we have the new tires and go on to race run with the old tires,” Herta said. “It’s really useful when you have everybody here to kind of see where you rank up. Obviously, it’s a good step in the direction starting off P1 going into a race weekend.”
Herta currently sits third in the Rookie of the Year points standings, 49 markers behind leader Felix Rosenqvist, who was third fastest in both test sessions.
The mindset regarding the rookie title chase isn’t on his mind as he eyes on capturing his second career NTT IndyCar Series victory and let that battle unfold itself.
“That’s all you can do to win Rookie of the Year. Score more points than everyone else, especially being double points. It kind of helps me a lot and if I win Felix has to finish sixth or seventh. That’s kind of what I have to do.
“But I’m not really focused on the rookie championship as much as winning the race and hoping the rookie championship will come with it.”
Power’s afternoon session started off strong until in the closing minutes where he was involved in an incident with one of the Ed Carpenter Racing cars at Turn 6, bringing out one of multiple red flags.
“I was on a really good lap and had a Carpenter car in front of me,” Power said. “Second time today. I don’t know which car it was, but what you can do? It’s a short track.”
Power was far from the only driver who had trouble at the 2.238-mile circuit. This morning, Tony Kanaan beached his No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet in Turn 3. It was the only major stoppage in the two-hour session.
The afternoon saw more drivers pushing the absolute limit, some were able to keep their cars rolling like Marcus Ericsson and Ryan Hunter-Reay in “The Corkscrew.”
Herta said that part of the circuit was his favorite because he was able to get a good balance on his No. 88 Capstone Turbine Corporation Honda.
“The suspension is quite nice, so you can hit the curbs on the inside,” Herta said. “So you can kind of see what you can get away with without bottoming too much and where we can put the car and can’t put the car. It’s really technical, I don’t know.”
Others like Power weren’t as fortunate to avoid bringing out red flags as Rosenqvist and eighth fastest Simon Pagenaud did so and received five-minute penalties.
Despite the incidents, no serious crashes occurred at Laguna Seca and a lot was learned from both sessions. Power was satisfied with his effort when comparing now to the February session which was plagued by wet conditions.
“The track was a lot better than I was here last. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s quite fun out there,” Power said. “There’s definitely tires degrading and cars sliding around, but I think that’s good. Definitely in the driver’s hands.”
Outside of being surprised on the changes, he still feels that his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet has room for improvement, especially on the longer runs.
“Definitely got into a good window,” Power said. “We just need to work a little bit on the race car on the long runs because it wasn’t good enough. Just down to find adjustments and try to understand the tire when they come on and such. Happy with the productivity today.”
The Australian hopes to wrap up an otherwise disappointing campaign by winning three out of the last four races and help his Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, who was fourth quickest this afternoon, lock up his second INDYCAR title in the last three years.
“That’ll definitely help Josef’s case and it makes it much harder for the other guys,” Power said. “Will see where we qualify and where the teammates are. The main thing for this weekend is for the team to win the championship. Qualify on pole makes an easy job for me, so that’s definitely the aim.”
One thing is guaranteed Sunday from Power, he won’t play games on how which Penske driver should win the title which is between Newgarden and third-place points man Pagenaud.
“I do not,” Power responded. “I’ve never play those games and definitely not favoring anyone in the championship. They’re both up there and deserve it, including (Alexander) Rossi. I know how hard it is to get to that point so you got to give your guys that made it and have a chance a lot of respect. You can’t be playing games out there.”
Rossi, who’s second in points, was only able to go fifth fastest Thursday morning but only salvaged to set the ninth fastest time in the afternoon.
The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey kicks off with two practice sessions Friday, taking place at 1:30 pm EST and 5:10 pm EST respectively. Sunday’s championship deciding race will commence at 3:15 pm EST with the race airing live on NBC.