Herta’s fourth lap in the Firestone Fast Six saw him lap the course a quarter-second faster than his nearest rival and put the #26 Gainbridge Andretti Autosport-Honda on pole position.
It will be his fifth time starting from P1, but his first with his father, former Indy car race-winner and now co-team owner Bryan Herta, as his strategist.
While Colton and the team got their heads around the fact that Firestone’s red-sidewalled alternate compound tires took at least three laps to offer up their best grip, the 21-year-old Californian admitted the tire behavior in general had come as a surprise.
“I went into this session thinking that it was going to be a black [Firestone’s harder primary compound] race, like it was last year,” he said. “Now I’m kind of scratching my head because I know a lot of guys might not be able to make it work, but it seems like we might be one of the guys that might be able to make it work on red tires – used reds.
“We’ll have to wait and see. Have a lot of data to go through tonight.
“For me, the grip level was very similar to the new reds [even] after they had a heat cycle on them, which is very strange. Haven’t really seen that in my IndyCar career yet.
“So that’s something to look at and think about. It will definitely make the race more interesting if guys are choosing to run those used reds over new blacks.”
Asked to clarify that he found similar grip on used reds as on a fresh set, Herta replied: “Similar, similar. Obviously traction is a little bit worse.
“[We did] 60.3sec in the Fast Six [on used reds], whereas on new blacks, the best time I saw was a 61.0. Obviously you have to look at track conditions. The Super Trucks were out right before us. That maybe has something to do with it.”
There are some guys out there that may look at using used reds, but I’m not sure yet. Can’t be sure till I look at the data.”
He added: “For sure, after seeing what happened today, I’m really going to push the team to be on those used reds tomorrow in warm-up and try to get a good run in, see whether it’s a viable strategy or not.”
Herta said he was happy to earn the pole in front of Dan Towriss, CEO of his title sponsor Gainbridge and described earning a pole at St. Pete – as his father did back in 2005 – as “really cool.”
“I think the first place that happened was probably Laguna Seca [actually, it was Portland]… It seems like we’re good at the same tracks. He had a pole in Mid-Ohio , I had a pole in Mid-Ohio . He has a pole at Portland , I have a pole at Portland . He had a pole here , I now have a pole here. Weird how that works.
“Yeah, it’s cool to kind of carry on the legacy as best I can. More importantly getting the job done for myself and my team. I think we did just that today… Excited obviously for my dad to be on the car. That was the first pole he shared with me. He was super excited about it.
“Then obviously just carrying on with the program that we’ve had this whole two days. Right from practice we were really fast. To cap it off with pole and hopefully with a win tomorrow would be amazing.”