Colton Herta

Andretti Global with Curb-Agajanian driver Colton Herta pushed his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda to the limit on a treacherous Road America tarmac Saturday, leading second place Will Power by 1.9470 seconds in the drenched NTT INDYCAR SERIES pre-qualifying practice session.

Under difficult conditions for qualifying at Road America, starting wet then later turning into a damp circuit, Herta narrowly missed the NTT P1 Award, earning the second starting spot next to pole sitter Linus Lundqvist for Sunday’s XPEL Grand Prix at Road America for his second consecutive front row starting spot this season after winning the pole last weekend at Detroit.

“I think the easiest way for me to do it is to push the brake zones where there is runoff,” Herta said about his ability to find grip quickly in wet conditions. “That way it’s kind of safe, and if I need to go off, there’s tarmac for me there. I try in Turn 5 and Turn 8 really push it, so I can understand where the limit is. From there, it is all about generalized speed and how you approach the corner, which I do more based on feel and kind of getting to the limit.”

The 55-lap race airing at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network will see Herta launch from the front row for the fifth time in seven Road America starts, including four in the last five years.

The significant gap between Herta and the other drivers who tiptoed around the 4.014-mile racetrack was rooted in 2015 and 2016, when Herta raced in Europe. He credited testing on Pembrey Circuit in Wales for helping to hone his skills of racing in the rain.

“Did probably 15-20 days testing in two years over there,” Herta said. “That place sees more rain than it does shine. Definitely a learning tool that I love to have. It was really crucial in my development, and it shows that it works really well right now.”

The last NTT INDYCAR SERIES race conducted in wet conditions was the 2022 GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Herta climbed from 14th at the start to win. That was the last time he reached victory lane in INDYCAR SERIES competition, 36 starts ago.

“I think driving style helps,” Herta said. “I tend to drive a little bit more aggressive than a lot of people. I'm comfortable sliding the car. It helps in those conditions to find the limit a little bit more. The cars were great today, wet or dry. I think that's the biggest thing to dial it down to, is when you're not fighting a car in the wet, it makes such a big difference.”

Simpson Shows Qualifying Promise

Kyffin Simpson said last month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that the next growth phase of his rookie NTT INDYCAR SERIES journey was improvement in qualifying. Entering Sunday’s XPEL Grand Prix at Road America, Simpson qualified his No. 4 Journie Rewards Chip Ganassi Racing Honda 23rd, 26th, 23rd, 25th, 18th and 23rd, respectively.

On Saturday at rain-soaked Road America, Simpson leaped from the bottom of the speed charts in the opening round of the three-round knockout qualifying format to advance to his first Top 12 appearance.

Simpson rolls off a career-best 12th for Sunday’s 55-lap race.

“Just a lot of hard work,” Simpson said. “This whole year we’ve struggled with qualifying. It’s not been our strong suit at all but something that we’ve focused on a lot in the last couple of weeks. I feel like I’m getting the hang of it more.”

Road America has been kind to the 19-year-old Cayman Islands resident. Simpson set the track record for INDY NXT by Firestone competition last year for his first career pole in the INDYCAR development series.

Busy Schedule Ahead for Palou

Alex Palou isn’t going to take advantage of an off weekend in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES next week to get some rest and relaxation. Defending series champion Palou is heading to France to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving the No. 2 Cadillac V-Series R LMDh entry alongside Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn in the world’s most prestigious sports car race.

“A lot of traveling,” Palou said. “The idea is to leave tomorrow night after the race from Chicago to go to Paris. It will be a busy week but, for sure, will be fun.”

Le Mans will be Palou’s second sports car outing for Chip Ganassi Racing’s Cadillac team. He competed in January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, the opening race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, sharing the seat with fellow INDYCAR SERIES champions Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon, and Renger van der Zande.

Siegel Embracing Hectic Moments

Juncos Hollinger Racing driver Agustin Canapino is sidelined this weekend, taking a leave of absence, with INDY NXT by Firestone championship contender Nolan Siegel taking over the No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet.

Siegel turned 18 laps in the car Friday.

On Saturday morning, Siegel made the decision to punt on the rest of the INDY NXT by Firestone weekend to focus on preparation for Sunday’s XPEL Grand Prix at Road America. He entered the weekend third in INDY NXT points, trailing leader Jacob Abel by 44. Brazilian Kiko Porto replaces Siegel in the No. 39 HMD Motorsports entry for INDY NXT by Firestone competition at Road America.

Siegel was thrown another curve ball with rain drenching the 4.014-mile track during practice and qualifying. The 19-year-old driver had zero experience behind the wheel of NTT INDYCAR SERIES machinery in wet conditions.

“There’s just so much to learn,” he said. “In practice, we didn't actually end up getting a timed lap with all the red flags. This (qualifying) was the first time I've gone through Turn 1 in the wet.”

Siegel showed in qualifying why he deserves the nod. He earned a starting spot of 21st among 27 cars for Sunday’s 55-lap race despite his limited seat time.

“I think we're in a good spot, and I'm learning a lot,” Siegel said. “Everyone's getting along here. Just so much to learn from the people to the car to the conditions, and I think the race is going to be dry. So, put this behind us, and ultimately, it’s not that bad of a starting spot.”

Siegel competed in The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge exhibition race, as well as the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach for Dale Coyne Racing. At Long Beach, Siegel started 27th and finished 20th.

He attempted to make the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, but a crash on his final four-lap qualifying attempt left Siegel as the lone driver to miss the field of 33.

Road America Special for Rahal Family

Sunday’s race will be the 11th NTT INDYCAR SERIES start at Road America for Graham Rahal. His highlights include two third-place finishes (2007, 2016), fourth in 2019, sixth in 2018 and a pair of eighth-place finishes, in 2007 and 2022.

While Rahal nor his team, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has won on the picturesque, 4.014-mile road course, the track holds a special place in their hearts.

“It’s the greatest track on our schedule, in my opinion, and it’s a great place to go,” Rahal said. “It’s a very special place for our family. With my grandfather having raced there for so many years beginning in the 60’s, I believe, then my father and now me, it’s a special place overall for us. And now with my family, it’s a huge deal. My wife absolutely loves Road America, and we look forward to it every year.”

Sunday’s XPEL Grand Prix at Road America is the 22nd time RLL has competed at Road America. Bobby Rahal has a best finish of second in 1996 and was third in 1992 and 1993.

Odds and Ends

  • Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske combined to win eight of the last nine Road America races and five of the six events this season. The teams produced six of the top eight starters for Sunday’s 55-lap race. Rahal said the winning trophy isn’t guaranteed to leave with one of those organizations. He noted that Sunday could be an interesting strategic race. If the Firestone primary tires are the superior compound for the race, the drivers starting midpack or further back could elect to start on the alternate red sidewall tire and pit early for the primaries. If a caution flies, the field could flip to their advantage.
  • Pato O’Ward starts in Row 6 for the second consecutive week. His No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet rolled off 12th last week in Detroit and starts 11th Sunday. He said his car didn’t have enough to make the Firestone Fast Six, but he expects to mount a challenge for a top-five finish. He climbed to seventh last week.
  • Scott McLaughlin said his No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet is in a good spot despite rolling off eighth Sunday. He said even in wet conditions, that is 10 spots higher than he qualified in dry conditions last year when he started 18th at Road America.
  • NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader Scott Dixon said driver error is why he will start 10th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Sunday is the third time in the last five races he’s started 10th or worse. He finished 15th (Barber Motorsports Park) and third (Indianapolis 500) in the other two occurrences. Last year at Road America, Dixon charged from 23rd at the start to finish fourth. In 2021, he climbed from 13th to a fourth-place place finish. For his last victory at Road America in Race 1 of the 2020 doubleheader weekend, Dixon started in Row 5 (ninth), the same row he will start Sunday.