Newgarden bests Herta by just 0.0031s for Mid-Ohio IndyCar pole

Josef Newgarden will start Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series race at Mid-Ohio from pole position after edging Colton Herta in an eventful qualifying session on Saturday afternoon.

Herta had claimed the top spot with a minute remaining, and improved on his final lap to settle on 1m06.6770s. By that point, Newgarden was the only driver left on the track, and the 1m06.6739s response that he wrung out of the No.2 Team Penske Chevy was enough to unseat his Andretti rival by just 0.003s.

The result delivered on Pato O’Ward’s earlier prediction of a close pole shootout, but the part the Arrow McLaren SP didn’t predict was that he’d play no part in that contest. Significantly warmer conditions, coupled with the Firestone alternates taking longer than expecting to reach their sweet spot, and the pace that had carried O’Ward to the top of the time sheets during the earlier practice session abandoned him when it mattered. Eliminated in the opening round, he heads into tomorrow needing to carry on his championship push from the back half of the field.

“We’ve had inconsistency from tire to tire,” said a shellshocked O’Ward, who will line up 20th. “I wasn’t the best either, but the car wasn’t even there in Lap 3, and it should have been. I don’t know what to say. We’re starting from the back, so we’ll see what we can do tomorrow. I don’t want to point any fingers. I screwed up. We had pace and … it sucks, it sucks, to be starting from the back.”

It was probably scant consolation that AMSP teammate Felix Rosenqvist was equally mystified after driving what he thought was one of his best-ever laps at Mid-Ohio, only to learn that he was 0.7s off the pace in the opening qualifying round.

“I thought I had two good laps ,but somehow we’re 0.7s off,” he said after also being knocked out in the first round. “If it were 0.2s off I would understand it but 0.7s… I can’t understand it. I thought I did one of my best laps around here. I’m kind of lost for words.”

AMSP’s early exit left the Fast Six to be fought equally between the traditional Big 3. After Newgarden and Herta claimed the front row for Penske and Andretti respectively, Ericsson put Chip Ganassi Racing on the map by qualifying third. His main excitement during the afternoon was his starring role in the all-Ganassi battle for the final ticket to the Fast Six at the end of round two, when he was bumped in final minute by Scott Dixon, but with just enough time on the clock for one more lap — which he used to bump Alex Palou.

Joining Ericsson on the second row will be Will Power, who got all of his drama out of the way early when an electrical problem left his car stuck in pitlane for the opening half of the first round. An ECU change solved the problem, and Power was able to head out with four minutes to go — not enough time for a banker lap on the primaries, but just enough to get his reds up to temperature and book passage to round two.

Dixon will start from fifth, the Kiwi explaining that he simply failed to put a better lap together, and will line up alongside Alexander Rossi, who had an altogether more eventful afternoon. When the checkered flag waved at the end of the first group’s opening round, Rossi was eighth — two places short of where he needed to be to transfer into round two. Among those ahead of him was Jack Harvey, who’d stormed up to second, and then spun on his next lap just as the final seconds of the session were ticking down. That brought out a local yellow; however Simon Pagenaud set a fastest time of his own while passing Harvey’s stricken car.

After several minutes, word came from race control that Harvey would lose his best lap for causing the yellow, and Pagenaud would lose his last lap — which also happened to be his fastest — for not sufficiently heeding the caution. That tumbled both out of the top six, and allowed Sebastien Bourdais and Rossi to transfer through in their place.

“I guess it’s the rules,” said Pagenaud, who will start 15th. “The circumstances are unfortunate when you have such good speed. But it doesn’t help our weekend.”

There were plenty of “if onlys” elsewhere through the field, including both Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who made changes to their cars to address understeer that ultimately proved to be too aggressive.

“The pace was good, but the car was very tricky to drive and hard to get the lap time out of,” Rahal said. “We made a little tweak for round two and it just tipped it over and made it too loose.”

RESULTS

UP NEXT: Practice 3, 3:30 p.m. ET, Peacock