The success may not have been expected so soon by some, but Colton Herta finds himself in the thick of the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship battle.
The 17-year-old Californian broke out of the gates early with a runner-up finish followed by a win in the season-opening doubleheader at St. Petersburg in March. He has since battled through adversity to sit second in the overall standings, 42 points behind leader Kyle Kaiser with two races remaining.
“We didn’t really expect to come in and win right away,” said Herta, driver of the No. 98 Deltro Energy Mazda Dallara IL-15 for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing.
“I had high expectations for me to win in my rookie year, but to jump right in and do that was a bit unexpected. So I’d say that was the main thing. We’ve had six poles this year. I think the next guy has like four or three (Kaiser with three), so we have a ton more poles than anybody else.
“You know, we’ve shown a lot of speed. We just need to put it all together in the race.”
The son of Bryan Herta, the four-time Indy car race winner and two-time Indianapolis 500 winning car owner, Colton is beginning to cast his own shadow in racing. Colton has already fared better in his Indy Lights rookie campaign than Dad did in 1992 when he won one race and finished fifth in the championship. Bryan won the Indy Lights title the following season, taking seven victories to propel his Indy car career in 1994.
Despite running –and winning – a few years in Europe across British Formula 3, British Formula 4 and the Euroformula Open championship, the younger Herta noted he has never been part of such an ultra-competitive title battle like this season.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a field so deep in competitiveness,” said Herta. “There’s been multiple times this year that the whole field has been, or most of the guys have been within a second of each other. So to make one little mistake on a qualifying lap, you’re starting way back. It’s super competitive, unlike anything I’ve ever competed in.
“As far as that goes, I think we’ve adapted quite well. We’ve had really good races where we came from the back to the front and we’ve also had races where we started up front and held it. I’ve gained a lot of experience and learned a lot of stuff. I’m actually really happy with (the season).”
Last week’s Indy Lights open test at Gateway Motorsports Park gave the blossoming star further indication that the last two Indy Lights races will continue to see fierce competition. Indy Lights races at Gateway on Aug. 26 before finishing the season Sept. 3 at Watkins Glen International.
“It was good,” Herta of the test on the 1.25-mile oval. “We learned a lot with the new pavement and I think we came up with some good things. Everybody was super close. I think it’s going to be super close in qualifying and I think the passing is going to be better than before with the addition of the new pavement.”
With George Michael Steinbrenner IV the co-owner of the new team in conjunction with Andretti Autosport, the process has allowed Herta to grow as a driver in a methodical way. Herta and Steinbrenner have said the ultimate goal is moving up to the Verizon IndyCar Series together.
But there’s no rush.
“It’s been awesome (working with Steinbrenner),” said Herta. “I think not a lot of people can say they’re good friends with their boss, so that’s pretty cool and we have a good relationship.
“I put a lot of trust in him and he puts a lot of trust in me. We’ve had a really good year so far and I’m just hoping to keep working towards the title. If we could clinch it this year, that’d be awesome. If we end up running (in Indy Lights) a second year, it’s not a problem. I have a ton of time still.”
Ever the competitor, Herta hasn’t given up on the 2017 season and championship just yet.
“It has been up and down, but we’ve had some good results and I’ve learned a ton,” he said. “It’s never too late for Kaiser to have a few bad weekends and us to have some good ones.”