Defending champion Colton Herta will start from the pole in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach IndyCar race, seeking to extend his winning streak in his native state.
The Valencia-raised driver has won the last three NTT IndyCar Series races in California — the 2019 and 2021 editions of the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey and the 2021 Long Beach race. The series didn’t race in California in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Herta’s 2021 success on road courses made him the favorite for Sunday’s race, according to the PointsBet Sportsbook, even before he set the track record in winning the pole Saturday. Herta won three road course races in 2021, tying Spaniard Alex Palou for the series lead.
Herta’s line was +475 Thursday and dropped to +270 Saturday night, meaning the return on the investment of a $1 bet on Herta would be $2.70 if he won. Fellow American Josef Newgarden is the second choice at +500.
Newgarden will join Herta in the front row of the 26-car field.
Newgarden won the series’ most-recent race, the XPEL 375, March 20 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, its first oval race of the season. Herta finished 12th.
Palou will start third and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden fourth.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean appeared to be headed for a front-row start with the second-fastest lap of the Firestone Fast Six on his next-to-last lap, but he speared his No. 28 DHL Honda into the tire barrier in Turn 5 with two seconds remaining in the session.
Under IndyCar rules he lost his two quickest laps of the session for causing a red flag during qualifying. Because the penalty left Grosjean without an official lap time in the Firestone Fast Six he will start sixth.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson plans to race Sunday despite suffering a broken bone on the outside of his right hand in a crash during practice Friday. He will start 25th.
The 85-lap race on the 1.97-mile, 11-turn street circuit surrounding the Long Beach Convention Center is set to start at 12:45 p.m., with NBC’s telecast beginning at noon.
The field consists of drivers from 15 nations — eight from the United States, two each from Canada, England, New Zealand and Sweden, and one each from Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, France, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.
All cars use fourth-generation NTT IndyCar Series chassis with universal IR-18 aerodynamic bodywork, Chevrolet or Honda engines and Firestone tires.
Herta won the pole by completing a lap in one minute, 5.3095 seconds, 108.48 mph, Saturday, breaking the previous record of 1:06.2254 set by Helio Castroneves in 2017.
“We had a great car,” Herta said after winning the eighth pole of his 51-race career in the NTT IndyCar Series and first in 2022. “Yesterday was a struggle for us. We kind of went to the drawing board overnight, brought something completely different out for today. It worked really well.”
Herta had the sixth-fastest time during practice Friday, completing a lap in 1:07.8783, 104.375 mph.
Newgarden qualified second in 1:05.755, 107.745 mph.
“Colton had definitely a better life on his tires going into the Fast 6. We had to use three laps apiece in Q1 and Q2 just to find our gaps, get our laps together,” Newgarden said, referring to the first two rounds of qualifying. “Unfortunately we didn’t have quite as good of a tire in the Fast 6.”
All five drivers with official laps in the Firestone Fast Six were quicker than Castroneves’ track record from five years ago while 11 of the 26 drivers who turned qualifying laps Saturday were quicker than Castroneves’ record.
Following his victory in September, Herta called the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach “the biggest race for me outside of” the Indianapolis 500.
“This is the first race I ever was able to come to,” said Herta, who turned 22 March 30. “I was two weeks old when I first came to Long Beach. My father (Bryan) was driving in 2000. It was the only race I could go to because I was so young and I couldn’t fly yet.
“I remember growing up around here, coming to this race every year when I was 5, 6, 7, all the way up until I was racing in IndyCar in 2019.”
Gates will open at 7:30 a.m. The IndyCar drivers will conduct a warmup from 9-9:30 a.m. The grand Prix’s second Historic IMSA GTP Challenge Race will be held from 10:45-11:05 a.m.
Following the IndyCar race, the Grand Prix’s second 30-minute SPEED/UTV Stadium Super Trucks race is set to begin at 3:30 p.m. The series for 600-horsepower V-8 engine trucks was founded by former IndyCar and NASCAR driver Robby Gordon, who finished second Saturday behind his 14-year-old son Max.
The Grand Prix will conclude with its second Porsche Carrera Cup race, scheduled for 4:20 p.m. Every car competing is identical, the road car-based Porsche 911 GT3. With no technical advantage between cars, driver talent, along with team mechanical skills and strategy, will decide the winner of the 40-minute race.