Colton Herta knocked on history's door in NTT IndyCar Series qualifying several times earlier this season. On Saturday, the rookie phenom broke through.
Nearly three months after becoming the youngest race winner in Indy car annals, Herta added youngest pole winner to a growing list of accomplishments. The Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver got the best of the field on Road America's challenging and lengthy permanent road course to take home the NTT P1 Award as the top qualifier for Sunday's REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR.
In the Firestone Fast Six, the last of Saturday's three knockout qualifying rounds, Herta - 19 years, 83 days old - turned a lap of 1 minute, 42.9920 seconds (140.306 mph) in the No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda to win the pole. Herta is more than a year younger than Graham Rahal was when he won the pole for the St. Petersburg race in 2008 at 20 years, 90 days old.
"I'm so happy with how the day went," Herta said. "The No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda guys are all working so hard and well together.
"The car was fast. This is the first time that we've had that edge in qualifying to go for pole and I loved it. We really took advantage of it."
Herta became the youngest race winner in Indy car history on March 24, when he drove to victory in the INDYCAR Classic, the NTT IndyCar Series race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, at the age of 18 years, 259 days. The speedy rookie had qualified in the top five on five occasions before Saturday, but never better than fourth. He was pleased to earn his first pole position on the revered 4.014-mile, 14-turn natural terrain circuit in Wisconsin.
"This is one of the best, if not the best, tracks in North America and the world," Herta said. "To get it here, it's a hard track to nail because it's so long. To have it that close at the end, two-tenths (of a second), on some tracks might seem like a big margin, but around four miles, it's really tight.
"I think for sure we had the best car today, and it showed."
Alexander Rossi will start alongside Herta in the front row for Sunday's race after qualifying second. The Andretti Autosport driver's best lap in the Firestone Fast Six was 1:43.1693 (140.065 mph) in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda.
"As per usual, pretty competitive session," Rossi said. "I don't think we went in expecting anything less. Ultimately, we came up a little bit short. I think we were one-tenth or two-tenths (of a second) off all session.
"I think we had a good lap in the first round, made some changes that maybe weren't ultimately the best. Regardless, we're on the front row. We'll take it. We're ahead of our championship competitors. Hopefully that's a good omen for tomorrow."
Team Penske's Will Power and Josef Newgarden will share the second row for Sunday's race. Power qualified third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:43.3749, 139.786 mph) with Newgarden fourth in the No 2 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet (1:43.6036, 139.478 mph).
"I thought we were a third- or fourth-place car (in qualifying), is what it seemed like right from the get-go," said Newgarden, the championship leader by 25 points over Rossi heading into the race. "I don't think we were as strong as (Herta and Rossi).
"It's tough to get it right. We've got to work on the race now. We're where we're at. We're within striking distance of putting in a good race tomorrow. That's what we'll focus on."
It will be an all-Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing third row on Sunday. Graham Rahal qualified fifth in the No. 15 Gehl/Manitou Honda (1:43.8076, 139.204 mph), with Takuma Sato sixth in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda (1:43.8790, 139.108 mph).
The three rounds of qualifying ran incident-free, though reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon suffered a mechanical issue on his final lap in the first round. The driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda advanced but didn't turn a lap in the second round and will start 12th on Sunday.
Indy cars have raced on Road America's beloved circuit since 1982. Sunday's race will be the 29th at the track. Live coverage begins at noon ET on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Road to Indy race recaps
Ryan Norman of Andretti Autosport won Saturday's Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race that featured a wild beginning. Pole sitter Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing) was penalized for blocking on the first of 20 laps, handing the lead to Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport).
Aaron Telitz passed Norman and Megennis for the lead on Lap 2 before Norman stormed to the front on the third lap and pulled away for his first win of the season.
In Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires, Kyle Kirkwood (RP Motorsport Racing) took advantage of a strong restart and drove on to his first win in the middle rung of the Road to Indy ladder. Kirkwood overtook pole sitter Parker Thompson (Abel Motorsports) on Lap 3 and went on to win by more than four seconds over teammate Ian Rodriguez.
In the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, Hunter McElrea earned his first win in the series and led a 1-2 finish for Pabst Racing, with teammate Colin Kaminsky placing second.
All three Road to Indy series complete their weekend doubleheaders with races on Sunday.