Colton Herta wins pole; four title contenders in the final round

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MONTEREY, Calif. – Colton Herta captured the pole position for Sunday’s season finale at Laguna Seca Raceway, where all four NTT IndyCar championship contenders made the final round.

Defending series champion Scott Dixon, a long shot for his sixth championship, qualified second Saturday followed by Alexander Rossi, who is 41 points behind Josef Newgarden. The points leader went off on a flying lap late in the final session and qualified fourth ahead of James Hinchcliffe, who was fifth fastest with questions circling about his future.

TODAY: IndyCar season finale at Laguna Seca, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC

“I knew I had to push on that lap to get the pole,” said Newgarden, who is seeking his second championship. “I don’t know if I would have beat (Herta), but we would have been in the (front row) region. We’re in where we need to be to start. Now it’s a matter of how we stay there.

“It’s a good thing to be close to the competition, specifically the ones in the championship. Yeah, we’ve got to have a good clean run. You’d like to win every race and maybe we’ve got a race-winning car. It certainly feels like we have the capability of it. But we need to have a good clean day, try and not get caught up in anything, and just run our race like we normally would.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud (third in the points standings) qualified sixth.

With his third pole position of the season, Herta joined his father, Bryan, as a top qualifier on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course. Bryan Herta qualified on pole position in 1997-99 and won in ’98-99 at Laguna Seca.

“It obviously means a lot with the family history, and 50 percent of his IndyCar wins coming from here,” Colton Herta said. “Obviously it means a lot to kind of keep on the family tradition.”

The four championship contenders were all among the dozen drivers and Group 1, and they advanced with the top four spots.

Newgarden was quickest with a lap of 1:10.3081, followed by Rossi (1:10.3097), Scott Dixon (1:10.3256) and Simon Pagenaud (1:10.4809).

Click here for the qualifying results Saturday at Laguna Seca.

Australia SuperCar Champion gets IndyCar Test at Team Penske

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Scott McLaughlin’s latest reward for winning the 2019 Virgin Australia SuperCar championship is an INDYCAR test at Team Penske.

“Scott has been incredibly successful for DJR Team Penske over the last three seasons and he has become a true champion of our sport,” said team owner Roger Penske, who will become the owner of INDYCAR, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 in early January. “He certainly embraces new challenges and we think this is a great opportunity to utilize the IndyCar Series rookie testing program so Scott can experience what it is like to get behind the wheel of one of our Indy cars.”

McLaughlin, who has scored back-to-back Virgin Australia Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP), will participate in an INDYCAR Rookie Evaluation test at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. on Monday, January 13.

“I am always open to new challenges and I’m thankful to Team Penske for providing this opportunity to test an Indy car,” said McLaughlin, who established a new Supercars single season record with 18 victories this past season. “We had an amazing year in 2019 and I’m looking forward to defending our Supercars championship next season. I’m also excited to grow as a driver and being with Team Penske creates cool opportunities to try something new. Although I have spent a few hours in a simulator earlier this year, it’s going to be a blast to see what one really feels like at a place like Sebring.”

McLaughlin joined DJR Team Penske in 2017 as one of the brightest stars in Supercars. He has produced 35 victories and 44 pole positions over the last three seasons while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019, the driver’s title each of the last two seasons and the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in October, along with co-driver Alex Premat.

McLaughlin will defend his Supercars title for DJRTP in 2020 in the No. 17 Shell V-Power Ford Mustang.  He will build on his already successful racing career by driving a full-sized open-wheel car for the first time.

Team Penske enjoyed another successful IndyCar Series season in 2019. The team earned its record 18th Indianapolis 500 victory as Simon Pagenaud captured the checkered flag in May, while Josef Newgarden won his second series title in three years and the team’s 16th INDYCAR Championship. Team Penske will once again compete with three full-season entries in 2020, featuring series champion drivers Newgarden, Pagenaud and Will Power.

Team Penske is one of the most successful teams in the history of professional sports. Cars owned and prepared by Team Penske have produced more than 540 major race wins, over 620 pole positions and 37 Championships across open-wheel, stock car and sports car racing competition. Over the course of its 53-year history, the team has also earned 18 Indianapolis 500 victories, two Daytona 500 Championships, a Formula 1 win, overall victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring along with a win in Australia’s legendary Bathurst 1000 race. Team Penske currently competes in the IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team also races in the Virgin Australia SuperCars Championship, in a partnership with Dick Johnson Racing, as DJR Team Penske.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500