Hertas, father and son, see value of Indy Lights on weekend of 400th race

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Like father, like son. Bryan and Colton Herta share parallel career paths when it comes to Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, which will commemorate its 400th race this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

Bryan Herta, now co-owner of the No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda driven by Alexander Rossi in the Verizon IndyCar Series, enjoyed a 13-year Indy car driving career that included four race wins. His road to Indy began in 1992 when he drove for Landford Racing in Indy Lights and scored his maiden win at Toronto.

The following season, Herta joined Tasman Motorsports for what proved to be a superb collaboration. He claimed seven wins – including six in the final seven races – on his way to the championship. Looking back, Herta noted that the team’s preparation with the new Lola chassis was key to the title.

“We got the first car, we were testing early and often and we hit the ground running right from the get-go,” said Herta, now 46. “We were on the pace. I think the other teams never really had the chance to catch up.

“It was a phenomenal year. It was a breakout year for me because it was really that season that propelled me into Indy car (racing) the following year.”

Following a racing career that ended in 2008, the elder Herta fielded an Indy Lights team from 2009-11 under the Bryan Herta Autosport banner. He believes that the series, now the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires developmental ladder, is a great platform for young drivers to earn their final stripe before making the leap to the Verizon IndyCar Series. It’s the reason why his son, 17-year-old Colton, is racing in Indy Lights this year.

“You look at the current roster of Indy car drivers and a good percentage of them came from Indy Lights,” Bryan Herta said. “I think it is still the best place to go – it’s like finishing school. It’s your last step before INDYCAR. If you want to race INDYCAR, you have to make the stop through Indy Lights unless you come out of Formula One.”

Colton, who wasn’t even born when his dad won the 1993 Indy Lights championship, has ascended quickly to the top of the junior open-wheel ranks. He made his Mazda Road to Indy debut in 2014, driving in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda before moving to Asia and Europe to further his blossoming open-wheel career.

Colton returned to the Mazda Road to Indy this year with Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing in Indy Lights and found immediate success with finishes of second and first in the season-opening doubleheader last month at St. Petersburg, Florida. He became the youngest race winner in Indy Lights history on March 12, at 16 years, 11 months, 12 days.

Colton, who turned 17 on March 30, said the competition level in Indy Lights is similar to what he experienced racing in Europe, but added he is impressed by how many drivers could win on a given weekend.

“Wherever you go, you are going to find people that are talented,” Colton said. “For sure, it is a bit more intense racing. You can get away with a little bit more over there. In the end, we are all racing and it’s all the same every week.”

While he and his father have taken somewhat similar paths in their racing careers, Colton acknowledged the two maintain a healthy boundary in their relationship.

“In the end it’s my decision and he respects that and encourages that. He won the championship in 1993 and jumped up to Indy cars. Hopefully I can follow in his path.”

Right now, the younger Herta is focused on winning the Indy Lights championship to claim the $1 million scholarship from Mazda and move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“Obviously, the end goal is INDYCAR and that’s the way to do it,” Colton said. “You have to win the Indy Lights championship to get the $1 million check and that solidifies yourself into the INDYCAR championship.”

Herta is among 15 drivers entered for this weekend’s Indy Lights doubleheader on Barber’s 2.3-mile road course. Races are set for 3 p.m. ET Saturday and 12:45 p.m. ET Sunday. USF2000 also runs two races at Barber, at 1:30 p.m. ET Friday and 5:45 p.m. ET Saturday. All the races will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

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