LEXINGTON, Ohio – The NTT IndyCar Series has one of the most competitive rookie classes in recent memory, and one of those in the four-man battle set the pace Friday for the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Colton Herta, who drives for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, ran a lap of 1 minute, 5.7292 seconds in the No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda to edge Team Penske veterans Simon Pagenaud and Will Power. Pagenaud was second Friday on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course in the No. 22 Menards Chevrolet (1:05.9313) with Power third driving the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet (1:05.9935).
Herta trails Felix Rosenqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing by 34 points for top first-year honors. Santino Ferrucci of Dale Coyne Racing is second, trailing Rosenqvist by 14 points. Marcus Ericsson of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is the other full-time driver in the rookie battle. The separation between the four is just 43 points through 12 races.
“It’s really close right now,” Herta said.
Winning the NTT P1 Award as Saturday’s top qualifier would give one of them another point toward capturing Rookie of the Year honors. Should Herta or Rosenqvist win the pole, they would become the first rookie to win multiple Indy car poles since Danica Patrick won three poles in 2005. Saturday’s qualifying is at 2:35 p.m. ET (TV: NBCSN, Radio: Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, SiriusXM Channel 209).
Herta initially said he doesn’t pay attention to the rookie standings, but then he noted that Rosenqvist leads, a sign that he indeed cares. Pagenaud noticed the contradiction.
“You don’t know (the order), but you know,” Pagenaud said, drawing a smile from Herta.
“Exactly,” Herta said. “(Being Rookie of the Year) would be great, but honestly I’m just focused on not running with the rookies but running with everyone, trying to be the best with everyone.”
Herta has been successful at the latter, winning the race at Circuit of The Americas, qualifying fifth for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and winning the pole at Road America. Herta, 19, is the youngest winner of a pole and a race in the history of the sport.
“Colton has been a breath of fresh air, quite frankly,” Pagenaud said. “He (has) showed tremendous speed on the road course, certainly pushed the old guys. That’s what we need.”
Pagenaud also complimented Rosenqvist on his season – the Swede was fourth on Friday’s speed chart – and called the foursome “a great rookie class.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about being complete,” said Pagenaud, who added this year’s Indianapolis 500 victory to his 2016 NTT IndyCar Series championship. “That’s what (the rookies) are trying to do. It’s fun to watch from my seat, for sure.”
Carpenter named event’s Grand Marshal
Former Ohio State football standout Bobby Carpenter, a former first-round NFL draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, was named Friday as Grand Marshal of the Honda Indy 200. He will offer the command to start engines for Sunday’s 90-lap race (4 p.m. ET, TV: NBC, Radio: Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, SiriusXM Channel 209).
The Lancaster, Ohio, native co-hosts the popular “Carpenter & Rothman Show” radio show airing weekdays in Columbus.