Colton Herta wins Portland GP pole as title contenders miss Fast Six

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PORTLAND, Oregon – Colton Herta clinched the pole position for the Grand Prix of Portland Saturday afternoon in a wild qualifying session that saw all of the top three drivers in the championship standings miss the Fast Six.

On his final lap of the Firestone Fast Six, Herta posted a 57.8111 second lap,  which was enough to narrowly take the top spot away from Will Power.

“I can’t believe we pulled it off,” Herta told NBC Sports. “It’s always a good day when you can beat Will Power in the Fast Six.”

Herta’s had plenty to smile about over the course of the weekend at Portland. On Friday, he was fastest in practice 1, and earlier in the day Saturday, he was fastest again in P3. In his relatively short career, Portland has already become one of Herta’s favorite tracks.

“I love this place,” Herta said. “I had my first IndyCar test here, so obviously it means a lot to me.

“To have a second career pole here is even cooler. Hopefully we can add a second career win.”

With Herta clinching the pole, Power would have to settle for second. Still, Power has no issue with a front-row starting position.

Power, going on a “one-and-done” strategy in the final round, locked his brakes entering Turn 1 on his lone flying lap, which flat-spotted his right front tire. Power ended the session just a mire 0.0192 seconds behind the pole.

“It was my fault for not warming the brakes a bit more,” Power said. “It’s tough when you go out and you have to pump it out straight away. You don’t get any temp in the brakes here because there’s no braking zones.

“But P2, you can definitely win from there. We’ll just go for it tomorrow.”

Scott Dixon qualified third, while Jack Harvey, Felix Rosenqvist and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top six qualifiers.

Alexander Rossi qualified seventh, which was the highest qualifying position for any of the top three championship contenders.

Fellow championship hopefuls Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud fared no better, as both failed to advance from round 1. Newgarden and Pagenaud will start Sunday’s race 12th and 18th, respectfully.

“You can’t make a mistake, and I made a couple of them there,” Newgarden said. “I got wide in the curb coming off [Turn] 7, and dropped a tenth [of a second] on one lap, and then dropped another tenth on the final corner of the next.

“That’s Portland. That’s how it was last year, and I figured it was going to be that way this year.

“We’ll just go racing now.”

Live coverage of the Grand Prix of Portland begins tomorrow at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

Click here for full qualifying results 

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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.