Herta: “I’ve been bit by the bug; one isn’t enough”
Colton Herta – IndyCar’s newest winner and the youngest in Indy car history – has pledged to go for a second triumph at Barber Motorsports Park after his Circuit of the Americas success.
After qualifying fourth and running in a podium position throughout the inaugural NTT IndyCar Series race at COTA, the Harding Steinbrenner Racing-Honda driver led the final 15 laps of the IndyCar Classic to clinch victory in only his third ever race at this level.
The 18-year-old found himself in the lead when race leader Will Power of Team Penske-Chevrolet and Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport-Honda got hosed by a full-course caution, which closed the pitlane just as they were due to make their final stops, having run longer than their nearest rivals.
However, at the restart, Herta had to hold off another Penske and Andretti car, driven by Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay respectively, in order to clinch victory.
The teenaged son of former Indy car winner Bryan Herta admitted that for the first two thirds of the race, he wasn’t confident of pulling off a win.
“I didn't think it was going to happen,” he said. “Seems like Will and Rossi had a bit of a pace advantage on us. I think the max we were going to get was third without a caution. Caution came out.
“[But] we did think we were third best. Really good job by everybody. The boys did a really good job on the stops the whole day.”
Regarding the final restart, again Herta wasn’t sure he could beat Newgarden and Hunter-Reay.
“On the restart we were quick, we kind of sprinted off,” he said. “I know we got the quickest lap on that first lap, which was pretty crazy to have the tires up to temp and everything ready for that.
“[But I wasn’t] super-confident at all, to be honest. I was kind of looking at it that they might get by me [but] I thought I could still manage podium. I’d never done a restart from cold tires that were reds. In St Pete, I only made my restarts on blacks.
“It kind of felt a little unnatural. The tires came up to temp really quickly. It wasn't really that big of a problem. I got a really big jump out. Newgarden got a little bit of wheelspin.
"It was off to the races for me, pulled out the gap. 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.”
In terms of making history, he remarked: “It was cool to win here, first race at Circuit of the Americas and youngest to win. I think it will be something I’ll come back to forever.…
“Just to be up with the names of people that have won – I'm going to live and die an IndyCar winner, which is spectacular in itself. It's a great record at a young age. To be standing up here kind of feels surreal…
“I've been bit by the bug now. One race isn't enough. Going to go for another one at Barber. I just want to get there and drive again.”
Herta driving style suits car and track
Herta said that his pace with the HSR car at both St. Petersburg – where he was set to qualify in the top six until penalized for holding up another driver – and at Circuit of The Americas wasn’t something he could fully explain following his graduation from Indy Lights.
“I haven't really changed my driving style at all,” he said. “The Indy Lights car is quite a bit different with the stiffer tires that Cooper has. Their tires are meant to last 45-minute to an hour-long race.
"We last for 20 to 30 minute [stints], we obviously have softer tires than they do and they produce a lot more grip. It's obviously a bit different driving style.
“I don't know. Maybe my driving style suits Indy car more than it did the Lights car. Maybe I just woke up one day and hit myself on the head and learned how to drive.”
He went on: “This is a wicked place. I think it kind of helps that it's low grip. I think I thrive a little bit more in low-grip situations. That's kind of what you need to get through the Esses fast. A lot of the guys that were struggling had a lot of understeer in the Esses.
“You got to be able to drive a loose car. Obviously the grip level of the track didn't change much for some reason. I think the asphalt doesn’t take rubber. Kind of just put it down on the track and shuffled it off. The lap times actually didn't really change that much throughout the weekend.
“Yeah, I guess being able to drive a loose car is key, being able to hold onto it.”
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