After an Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season highlighted by two wins, seven podiums and seven pole positions, Colton Herta is looking to improve upon his third-place finish in the standings with a planned return to Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing in 2018.
With the statistics that the second-generation racer amassed in his rookie Indy Lights campaign, many would be satisfied. Herta, however, admitted there were races that kept him from winning the championship and, with it, the $1 million Mazda Road to Indy scholarship to move into the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“That’s the goal, to win the championship,” said Herta, who drove the No. 98 Deltro Energy Mazda Dallara IL-15. “I think for however many good races we had, we also had bad ones.”
Herta’s campaign was indeed marred with as many difficulties as successes. Contact at the first race at Barber Motorsports Park resulted in a 10th-place finish, but he rebounded a day later to win the second race that happened to be the 400th in series history. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, a punctured right-rear tire in Race 1 and a slowing car in Race 2 dropped him from the points lead to third place in the standings.
A crash on Lap 1 of the Freedom 100 on the Indy oval and wall contact while leading at Toronto further handicapped Herta’s championship run.
On the positive side, Herta won the second race in the season-opening doubleheader at St. Petersburg to become the youngest race winner in Indy Lights history at 16 years,11 months, 12 days. He followed that with the historic win at Barber and nearly won at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course after chasing down leader Santiago Urrutia.
Mid-Ohio was also a microcosm of the season for Herta. During the second race of the weekend, Herta had an amazing battle with Andretti Autosport teammate Nico Jamin until an unforced spin early in the race dropped him to a sixth-place finish.
Herta was quick at most every venue, as evidenced by his seven pole positions. Youthful mistakes, mental and physical, prevented him from making a consistent run at the championship – something titlist Kyle Kaiser was able to achieve.
“I think the pace wasn’t really a problem,” Herta said. “It’s just kind of cooling down and making sure we do the right stuff and stay focused. As far as pace goes, I think that’s one thing that we showed is with seven poles we were one off the all-time record for one year. I think we had the raw pace, it’s just about putting that pace in for 30 laps.”
Herta is confident that the lessons learned this season will be of great benefit when he returns as an Indy Lights veteran in 2018.
“I think it just comes with maturity,” he said. “I obviously know what to do now because I’ve been in a lot of situations from last year, so I know how to capitalize on that. Obviously, a lot of the tracks I hadn’t seen before, so coming back to the tracks like Road America, all the ovals, that’ll help a ton and for sure help in qualifying performance and race performance.”
To help him get ready for next season, Herta turned 163 laps in last month’s Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He was fastest in three of the eight sessions and no worse than fourth in any session, with a best lap of 1 minute, 15.7808 seconds on the 2.439-mile circuit.
There’s one solution Herta feels can take him to the 2018 Indy Lights championship.
“Making sure that I drive like a robot,” he said, “and do everything perfect.”