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IndyCar Detroit front row reacts: Herta rebounds, Ferrucci aggro and Palou’s “fast car”

Written by Archie O’Reilly

Andretti Global’s Colton Herta and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou will lead the field to green as the NTT IndyCar Series takes to the streets of Detroit on Sunday. Qualifying wrapped up a high-emotion day that started with some practice aggro as IndyCar returned to track less than one week on from the Indianapolis 500.

“It feels great,” Herta said after taking his first pole position since Mid-Ohio almost one year ago. “A lot on my mind after the Indy 500 so it’s good to just get here and get a race weekend underway. That’s the best way to get over it. Happy for the team.”

Here is how the front row reacted to qualifying and the day’s big stories…

Herta bounces back from 500 crash

When Herta says a lot has been on his mind since the Indy 500, he is referring to crashing from second place before the midway point of the 200 miles last Sunday. He looked to have one of the very best race cars in the field after seamlessly progressing up from his starting spot of 13th but lost the car in Turn 1 and fell out of contention.

It is a challenge for the drivers to refocus from the heightened emotions of Indy, returning to track mere days after a fortnight on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) oval. And Herta had to overcome the anguish of losing a major shot at winning the great race.

“Luckily, unluckily for me, there wasn’t a lot of fatigue because I didn’t do a lot of the race,” Herta, who sits fifth in the championship after podiums in the first two rounds, added. “Unfortunately it sucks. What really sucks is having to go out there and watch everybody have fun, race for position. You’re just in the back trying to pick up spots. 

“Overall, the best remedy for it is getting back to the race car. It’s nice to have a nice back-to-back weekend. For me, it was personally because of having a bad 500. It’s nice to get back with the engineers working on something brand new and get going on a new weekend.”

Herta hopes starting up front for Sunday’s race on the tight streets of the Motor City means there is “less stress” heading into the pre-race meetings. Being on pole means Herta’s Andretti team does not have to devise a strategy to get to the front on a track tough to pass on, which Herta hopes will make it an “easier” race day, avoiding any chaos mid-pack.

“Luckily up front it was pretty clean [last year],” he said. “As long as I stay up there, we should be alright. It does breed a crazy restart - you’re coming out of a second-gear corner onto a back straight, going up to 180 miles an hour, then coming down to a 45 mile-an-hour hairpin. It’s very easy to get caught out… I can see it going that way.”

Herta’s take on the Ferrucci aggro

Much of qualifying day was overshadowed by a morning practice run-in between AJ Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci and Andretti’s Kyle Kirkwood. Replays showed Kirkwood inadvertently blocking Ferrucci amid a session riddled with traffic on the short street track, before Ferrucci retaliated by instigating unnecessary contact between the pair. 

When Kirkwood calmly came to speak to Ferrucci in the pit lane during a late-session red flag, the Foyt driver grabbed and shoved his competitor and the pair exchanged words. Kirkwood was left amused by the situation while Ferrucci seemed the more hot-headed of the pair and said he was “fired up” on the broadcast.

Ferrucci made a mocking remark that Kirkwood’s “boyfriend teammate did the same thing” with relation to a similar blocking incident involving Herta. He has since apologised for these comments and acknowledged that their homophobic nature is unacceptable.

“No,” was Herta’s one-word answer when asked whether he had a response to the apology, speaking in the post-qualifying press conference.

“I don’t have a problem with anybody at Foyt except for one person,” he said. “Everyone there is lovely besides one person.”

This prompted a grinning Palou, sitting alongside him, to ask who Herta was referring to.

“What do you think?” Herta responded with a similar smirk. “You know. Look at him smiling. I’m not the leopard. It’s not only me.”

At the time of the incident, Kirkwood radioed that Ferrucci - not the most popular among drivers - should “get kicked out of the series” for the dangerous nature of his driving, also seen recently with on-track run-ins with Romain Grosjean during the Indy road course event. He went on to describe his countryman’s driving as “dumb” and “dangerous”.

Herta also had some choice words in his interview on the broadcast, describing Ferrucci as “a headcase”. He added that Ferrucci is “driving a Penske [partnered] car to 20th for the fifth consecutive weekend” and that he is “always going to be a you know what in the race”. 

Transitioning from the 500 to streets

There were less than five days between the start of the four-hour delayed Indy 500 and opening practice commencing in Detroit. Herta believes drivers will “never have a worse feeling in your life inside a race car” than moving from the oval at IMS to the extreme bumpiness of Detroit.

“It’s so difficult,” he said. “It’s just a handful. You’re used to the smoothness and the speed. You get here and it’s a completely different course.” 

After the toil of his Indy 500 race day, Herta has had to contend with readjusting to a vastly different discipline of driving on top of not becoming too desperate and aggressive. He feels that balance was struck in qualifying en-route to his 12th career IndyCar pole in 87 races.

“It’s easy to isolate the things,” he said. “Obviously the things that were on my mind were just a lot of disappointment after the weekend before. Once you get in the car, that’s not what you’re thinking about. You’re thinking about how to go the fastest you can. Luckily we did that.”

Palou added that this sort of difference from one week to another is “what makes this series so special” given such diversity between tracks.

“We go from the smoothest place to the bumpiest place on the calendar,” he said. “It’s totally different what we do at IMS to what we do here for Detroit. It puts a lot of extra difficulty on  the drivers but especially the teams having to prepare cars completely differently, engineers having to switch from thinking about tonnes of drag and downforce to ride heights and bumps.

“That’s what’s so unique about this series. That’s what makes it so special to be part of.”

Even without coming off the back of a polar opposite track, Herta said it is “extremely difficult” in qualifying given it is “even more bumpy” than the old Belle Isle circuit. Drivers have said changes to smoothen certain areas have worked but its bumpiness is part of its character and make it all the more satisfying when a clean lap is achieved.

“When you hook up a lap, it feels really nice inside the cockpit,” Herta said, adding that he would “rather take lap time and be uncomfortable” than sacrifice lap time for a smoother ride.

“I would prefer if it was a bit smoother,” Palou said. “Still you need to get used to it. Having a really fast car just helps me obviously. There’s moments in some street courses where we struggle a lot more in terms of speed. But here for some reason we’re really good.”

Palou’s “really good” session

Palou’s qualifying session, as things so often seem for him, appeared seamless from the outside. And he agreed that it was “really good” with a “really good” car.

“[It was] easy to drive,” he said. “Was really fast. Just a shame that red flag in the Fast Six didn’t allow us to see the best lap times of the cars - don’t know what Colton would have done on that lap. Still pretty good. Car has been really good since Practice One.”

A late red flag for a stalled Kirkwood amid the supposed final laps of the Fast Six session saw cars have to return to pit lane, with the chance for one final lap after the track went green again. But it is rare to see cars improve further in this situation.

“I think everybody was going to improve a little bit before that red flag,” Palou added. “I don’t know how much. I was a second off, I was sliding everywhere. I was trying but there was no way I could make it happen.”

Palou knows how to win around the new Detroit circuit after winning from pole as the track debuted last year. He commanded the race, aside from briefly losing the lead to Will Power, and weathered the number of caution restarts.

“It’s tough here, especially because it’s really tight,” he said. “I would say the only passing point is probably Turn 3. Having said that, I got overtaken last year when I was leading. Maybe I can do the same. I would say it’s more about not trying to follow the car in front. 

“It’s so tight… You start following the car in front, instead of doing your own line, you start going slower and slower. Let’s see what our race pace is. Patience is key, especially with all the yellow flags, restarts that we’re going to have.”


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