IndyCar: Another Lone Star turn Saturday night for Colton Herta?

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NTT IndyCar Series driver and California native Colton Herta has been right at home in Texas.

Two of the most impressive performances from his 2019 rookie season came in the Lone Star State. In March, he became the youngest race winner in Indy-car history at Circuit of the Americas in Austin.

Then, a few months later at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, he made jaws drop with exceptional passes before a late battle with Scott Dixon ended with both in the wall.

That earned him a lecture from the five-time series champion. But you can argue it was the point where Herta became the fearless face of IndyCar’s thriving youth movement.

As the 2020 season begins Saturday night at TMS, he’s now a full-fledged member of the Andretti Autosport family. He’ll have all the resources he needs to improve in his second year.

But like everybody else, he’ll be knocking the rust off after an extended shutdown because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Doing so at TMS isn’t exactly easing into it.

“I think [Texas] is a very tough place to start,” Herta said during an IndyCar ZOOM teleconference on Wednesday. “Obviously, going from 0 miles an hour for a very long time to 220 [miles per hour] is very difficult.

“But with that being said, I think it’s going to be more about getting all the unknowns out. They covered kind of the COP [center of pressure], the aerodynamics of the car, the weight distribution that the Aeroscreen changes.

“I think it’s actually going to be a very interesting race. I think with these 35-lap stints, it can open for more rubber going down on the track and can open up a second lane possibly and make the track grippier, so we can follow closer and hopefully get more passing in.”

Herta’s shown he’s got the guts to make those passes. Now, he needs to see the checkered flag more often. The run-in with Dixon last June at Texas led to one of his seven DNFs in 2019.

It’s also worth noting that four of those seven DNFs came on ovals, where he admits he’s still “learning a little bit.”

But under the Andretti banner, he’s confident he can shore things up.

“We have good data there,” Herta said. “I think we’ve improved the cars over the off-season in places like Gateway and Iowa, where I think we struggled last year compared to Ganassi and Penske.

“Just taking everything that we learned last year – not from the car but from the driving itself and really just the race prep for me – I think I’ll be very well prepared going into this year on all the ovals.”

In this shortened season where results will have more impact, it could be the difference in Herta fulfilling his stated goal for Year 2 after winning last year’s finale at Laguna Seca: A championship run.

SATURDAY INDYCAR START TIMES AND TV SCHEDULE:

IndyCar practice: 1 p.m., NBC Sports Gold

IndyCar qualifying5 p.m., NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold

Countdown to Green: 7:30 p.m., NBCSN

IndyCar Genesys 3008 p.m., NBC

IndyCar postrace coverage: 10 p.m., NBCSN

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III