All through his rookie season, Colton Herta has faced comparisons to his father, Bryan, who carved out a nice IndyCar career in the mid-to-late-90s.
Of course, the younger Herta has begun carving out his own legacy this season in becoming the youngest winner in IndyCar history when he won at COTA in March to go along with two pole position.
Saturday he matched one of his dad’s accomplishments when he captured the pole for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, his time of 1 minute, 10.1405 seconds was just quick enough to top Scott Dixon’s 1:10.1831. That’s his third pole of the season as he looks for his sixth Top 10 finish in his last eight races, and his first podium since his win in Austin.
Dixon, 95 points back of Josef Newgarden heading into Sunday’s season finale, will start beside Herta on the front row. The the three other title contenders also made the Firestone Fast Six, with Alexander Rossi starting third, Newgarden fourth and Simon Pagenaud sixth.
The Herta family has lots of good memories of the 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit carved into a mountain on the Monterey Peninsula. Bryan won three of his nine career poles at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (1997-99) and two of his four career races here as well (1998-99).
Needless to say, this one was a bit special.
“It means a lot with the family history, and 50 percent of his IndyCar wins coming from here, and it means a lot to kind of keep on the family tradition,” Herta said. “We’ve led every group that we were in, so I knew that if we dialed a lap in and we put it together, we could be on pole.”
Herta’s Harding Steinbrenner Racing No. 88 was fast off the truck beginning with the test on Thursday, and Saturday he was quickest in all three qualifying sessions to add poles to the ones he captured at Road America and Portland. It also marked the eighth time he’s made the Firestone Fast Six.
Save for a brutal May, back-to-back 12th-place finishes at Detroit and a crash that left him in 18th place at Texas, Herta has been a constant near the front of the field. That bad patch, though, leaves him 48 points behind leader Felix Rosenqvist, who went off track during Group 1 qualifying and was assessed a penalty where he lost his two fastest laps. That means he will start 14th in a race that pays double points, bringing both Herta and Santino Ferrucci (26 points back of Rosenqvist and starting 12th Sunday), back into the ROY picture.
Herta’s career started in the season finale at Sonoma last year, where he qualified 18th and finished 20th. It’s been quite a year since.
“That just kind of shows what I’ve done in a year and all the progress that’s happened (with the team),” Herta said. “Not only me but my feedback to the team and working on making the car better is so vital in this series because although it’s a stock series, everybody runs the same stuff, there’s differences in setup and what you feel through the car can make a car quite a bit better and really nailing that down, and obviously we have the one-lap pace down, so now we’re working on the race pace.”
And, as if the weekend couldn’t get any better, it was announced Saturday that Herta had come to a multi-year agreement with a team that will now be called Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport. While a move to Andretti had been speculated for some time, to have it made official brought a real sense of relief.
“‘I’m very fortunate to get a deal with the top three teams in the series,” he said. “Everybody says Penske, Ganassi and Andretti are the top three teams in the series right now, so honored to be in that. Like I’ve said through this whole process of choosing a team, it had to make more sense than the situation I’m in, and a lot of them maybe didn’t.
“I had the opportunity with Michael and to also bring Harding and Steinbrenner with me, which was important because they gave me my start in IndyCar and truly believed in me, and I didn’t have a full season ride from anyone except for them. It meant a lot to stay with them and bring them with me, and hopefully we can continue our progress. When you have an opportunity, to join the top three teams, you have to take it. You don’t know how many times in your career you’re going to have that ability.”
Photo credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar Media