PORTLAND, Oregon — Brimming with confidence, Colton Herta had every reason to think he could claim pole position at Portland International Raceway. 

And claim it he did.

“I knew it was going to be possible,” said Herta. “I knew we had a good chance at it as long as we did what we’re supposed to do. Everyone stayed focused and we have a good race car. We didn’t make many changes from practice three to qualifying and the changes that we did make helped the car.”

The teenager capitalized on those changes, wheeling his No. 88 Harding-Steinbrenner Racing Honda with a fastest lap of 57.8111 seconds around the 12-turn, 1.964 mile circuit to average over 122 mph. This came after leading two of the three practice sessions for the weekend.

It was Herta’s second NTT IndyCar Series pole, beating Will Power, Scott Dixon, Jack Harvey, Felix Rosenqvist and Ryan Hunter-Reay in the third round of qualifying ahead of Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

Power was second fastest, just .0192 seconds off of the Austin race winner’s time.

“I flat spotted the tire and had a flat spot for the next lap,” said a frustrated Power. “It’s disappointing. I had a pretty good buffer on everyone, I should’ve been better.”

Qualifying began with a fast-changing first group in round one as points leader Josef Newgarden made the second round of qualifying until Zach Veach turned the last lap of the session, knocking the 2017 IndyCar champion back to seventh in the group by .016 seconds. Seventh in group one means that Newgarden will start 13th.

Dixon was fastest over Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Conor Daly and Veach who all advanced to round two.

In group two of the first round, Power and Herta swapped the top spot most of the session before Herta took over at the end with a fastest lap of 57.4224 seconds. Herta led Power, Alexander Rossi, Rosenqvist, Harvey and Spencer Pigot out of the second group. Meanwhile, Simon Pagenaud could only muster ninth fastest in the second group so the driver that sits second in points will start 18th in the 23 car field.

In round two, Power was the only Chevrolet driver to advance to the Firestone Fast Six as he bested Herta, Hunter-Reay, Harvey, Rosenqvist and Dixon. Title hopeful Rossi could manage no better than seventh, but that’s better than how the two drivers in front of him in the points did.

Title Hopefuls Falter

Newgarden watched the timing screens change constantly during the second and third rounds of qualifying, but the timing stand isn’t his normal working environment.

Dropping a wheel off the course at Turn 7 and Turn 12 cost Newgarden just enough time to keep him from advancing to the second round. A difference of .0163 seconds kept the Tennessee native from moving on and kept the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet mired back in the field.

“It’s a shame for us, I think we missed an opportunity with it for sure,” said Newgarden. “Our car was quick, you just can’t make even a small mistake. I made a couple of small ones. Dropped a wheel here, dropped a wheel there, and you can’t take a tenth for a mistake, that’s what happens. It drops you back to seventh place. It’s just that tight of a margin, you can’t make a mistake like that.

“The car was great, there were no issues with the car, it’s just teeny little mistakes, that’s what happens. I’m happy with the car, I think it’s going to race good, we’ll see tomorrow.

Teammate Simon Pagenaud’s issue was not having the car dialed in perfectly. The 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner will start better than he did last year (22nd) but there is still more work to do if he wants to better last year’s sixth place finish at Portland.

Pagenaud: “I think it’s not one corner, we’ve just got to find a bit more consistency in the car to get a better sweet spot. It’s just not what I need, not that simple to explain.”