Despite quick Indy Lights success, Herta taking it step at a time

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Colton Herta is taking everything one step at a time. Even after finishing second and first in his first two races competing in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires.

The 16-year-old Californian returns to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, the development ladder sanctioned by INDYCAR, after a two-year hiatus competing in British Formula 4 and the Euroformula Open F3 series – finishing third in both championships.

In last weekend’s season-opening Indy Lights doubleheader at St. Petersburg, the talented teen driving for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing moved from fifth on the starting grid to finish second in his series debut Saturday. A day later, Herta started from the pole and never wavered, leading all 23 laps despite heavy pressure from veteran Santi Urrutia. Herta won by less than two-tenths of a second to become the youngest race winner in series history (16 years, 11 months, 21 days).

But accomplishing things at a young age is nothing new for the son of four-time Indy car race winner Bryan Herta, himself the Indy Lights champion in 1993. Colton learned do things on his own when he ventured to Europe to race at age 14.

“I moved to Europe two years ago and I raced British F4 and Euroformula 3,” he said. “I moved over there just to grow as a person. Being put over there on my own, I had to (learn how to) cook for myself, how to clean for myself.

“It pushed me a lot (as a person) and it pushed me in the car as well. So it grew me a ton and I came back a lot quicker driver.”

Herta’s previous MRTI stint came during the 2014 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda season. He scored two top-fives, six top-10s and one fastest laps while finishing 15th in the standings despite missing two starts due to age restrictions.

Now, following his headline-making Indy Lights debut, Herta is the championship leader heading to the next doubleheader round, April 21-23 at Barber Motorsports Park. Mature beyond his years – Herta turns 17 on March 30 – remains focused on the road ahead.

“It’s amazing to come back from (racing in) Europe and into the INDYCAR paddock and be winning right away,” said Herta. “It’s a good start and we’re going to keep it rolling.”

His goals for the 2017 season are simple.

“I think just grow with the team,” he said Herta. “It’s going to be a team-building year. Obviously, win races and win a championship.

“The first few races is just getting comfortable with the car, with the racing and with the team. Once we do that, we’ll do that and go for more race wins, more podiums and championships.”

Looking further ahead, Herta also has his sights set on competing in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Should he earn the Indy Lights championship this year, it earns a $1 million Mazda scholarship to move up to the premier level of American open-wheel racing, including an entry into the 2018 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Herta insisted, however, that it wouldn’t be driving for his father, co-owner of the Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian team that fields Alexander Rossi. He wants to grow with his current team – a partnership between Andretti Autosport and the Steinbrenner family of New York Yankees fame.

“It would mean a lot (to win the Indy Lights title and move up to Verizon IndyCar Series), but it would be a Steinbrenner-Andretti seat,” the younger Herta said. “It’s a great opportunity. It’s going to be tough. I think two years is reasonable to win the championship.

“Hopefully, by 2018 we’ll be in (the Verizon IndyCar Series).”

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