In a sport that traces its roots back more than a century, it’s really difficult to do something that makes history, but somehow Colton Herta did just that Sunday during the IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas.
In just his third NTT IndyCar Series race, Herta, who turns 19 on Saturday, became the youngest race winner in the long history of American open wheel racing. His run to the checkers also gave Harding Steinbrenner Racing its first win as a team in just its 22nd race.
Herta took advantage of a late-race caution to get track position, then pulled away from Josef Newgarden when the race restarted with 10 laps to go. Herta crossed the line 2.7182 seconds in front of Newgarden, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal and Sebastien Bourdais rounding out the Top 5 finishers.
At 18 years, 11 months and 25 days, Herta bested the previous record held by Rahal, who was 19 years, three months and two days old when he won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2008.
“Just to be up with the names of people that have won (is exciting),” Herta said. “I’m going to live and die an Indy car winner, which is spectacular in itself. To be standing up here kind of feels surreal.”
The 20-turn, 3.41-mile circuit outside of Austin, Tex. was a track that has seemed to have fit Herta’s eye from the beginning, going back to spring training testing in February, when he was fastest in three of the four sessions.
But the weekend didn’t get off to the greatest of starts for HSR, as midway through the first practice session Friday morning, the No. 88 machine’s Honda motor suffered a failure, resulting in a long engine change that led to an all-hands-on-deck approach. This resulted in Herta missing the second practice session before finally getting on track for the “warm-up” session late in the day.
Herta and the team bounced back quickly, though, as he made it into Fast Six qualifying before eventually settling into the fourth starting position. On the race’s opening lap, he passed Scott Dixon and settled into third behind polesitter Will Power and front row starter Alexander Rossi.
Outside of pit stops, Herta ran in the Top 5 all day, and was sitting in fourth place when the yellow flag flew as the result of a Turn 19 collision between James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist. While HSR had already pitted for the final time, the three cars ahead of Herta, Power, Rossi and Dixon, all had not.
Herta assumed the race lead on their subsequent stops, but wasn’t feeling all that confident about the restart. He had never done a restart on the Firestone red tires, and Newgarden held a 3-to-1 advantage in push-to-pass time remaining.
But Herta’s restart was better than Newgarden’s, and the rest is history.
“I wasn’t super confident at all, to be honest,” he said. “I was kind of looking at it that they might get by me, but I thought I could still manage to podium. The other thing, I’ve never done a restart from cold tires that were reds. In St Pete, I only made my restarts on blacks.
“The tires came up to temp really quickly and it wasn’t really that big of a problem. I got a really big jump out and Newgarden got a little bit of wheelspin. It was off to the races for me, I kind of got it to where I wanted and tried to hold it there and save my push-to-pass in case a caution came out at the end.”
Herta also made first-time winners out of owners Mike Harding and George Steinbrenner IV. Herta and Steinbrenner formed a fast friendship several years ago that turned into a partnership in Indy Lights in 2016.
“The whole reason I’m here at such a young age is because Colton and I looked at each other, we said, ‘We have the same dream, why not chase it together’,” Stenbrenner said. “We always would talk about what it would be like to win an Indy car race together. Now that it happened, we’re still not really sure what it would be like. I don’t think we really processed it yet.”
Harding, who formed the team in 2016, was equally thankful.
“We didn’t expect it,” Harding said. “We’ve been struggling for a while, but we put together one heck of a crew and our driver showed it today. It was awesome. Each one of us has worked our butt off…I’m so happy for everyone.”
Power, who earned his 56th career pole in qualifying on Saturday, dominated the first three-quarters of the race, leading the first 45 laps. However, when he pitted on Lap 46 his No. 12 Verizon car suffered a gearbox failure, and he finished in 24th place. Rossi eventually finished ninth.
Newgarden, who won the season opener at St. Pete, leaves Texas as the points leader with 93, while Herta is 18 points behind and Dixon 36 back.
The Pit Lane Parley Experience with Harding Steinbrenner Racing, Episode 2
PLP host Mike Joachim and I were on the ground in Austin and bring you some more HSR coverage with Episode 2 of The PLP Experience. This week we talk to one of the newest members of the team, engineer Tyler Bell, as well as share our thoughts on Colton Herta’s historic win.
You an find it on your favorite listening platforms, and can hear it here on iTunes.