By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the NTT IndyCar Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into the 2019 season opener at St. Petersburg on March 10.
Team: Harding-Steinbrenner Racing
Years in Indy car: Rookie
Career Wins: 0
Career Podiums: 0
Instead of a two car team, Colton Herta will be the lone standard-bearer for Harding-Steinbrenner Racing. The first NTT IndyCar Series driver born in the 2000s, Herta comes into 2019 off of a lone race at Sonoma last year for the team and finishing as the runner-up in the 2018 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires.
“It’s going to be a busy year and I’m looking forward to it,” said Herta.
Herta’s past with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights and relationship with team co-owner George Michael Steinbrenner IV helped form a technical alliance between the two teams. Harding-Steinbrenner’s switch to Honda engines for 2019 helped make that possible.
“We’ll share setups, they’ll help us out when we need it,” said Herta. “I think once we get started on a weekend and get on a good platform, […] we won’t really have a problem and have to keep going back to Andretti. Anything that we find we can help them and anything that they find they can help us but it’ll make both programs stronger I’m sure.”
Herta’s teammate was supposed to be 2018 Indy Lights champion and former Andretti Autosport teammate Pato O’Ward. With both having a prior working relationship, 2019 was set to be a good fit for both drivers but O’Ward left the team for undisclosed reasons a month before St. Petersburg and was just recently announced as a part time driver at Carlin.
“Yeah, it was nice having [O’Ward] as a teammate last year and it kind of came out of the blue,” said Herta of the news that he no longer had a teammate. “It was a bit of a shock to me, obviously I haven’t been told I didn’t had a teammate because I’ve been busy doing stuff so I wasn’t sure if it was 100 percent true or anything but it was out of the blue for me.
“It’s tough, we pushed each other a lot in Indy Lights, I think we made the car a lot better at Andretti and then we bettered ourselves as well. It was always close, when I was on pole he was right there behind me, when he was on pole I was right there behind him.”
The 2018 Freedom 100 winner’s debut race at Sonoma Raceway last September was less than ideal. Starting 19th, Herta finished 20th, the last car on the lead lap. However, the experience gained from that weekend will help the second-generation racer to hopefully move further up the grid.
“There’s always room for improvement, theres going to be a big room for improvement this year because there’s a lot to learn,” said Herta. “One thing that I think I struggled with at Sonoma was one lap pace, I’ve never had that in my career when I’ve had to do one lap qualifying so that’s a big thing to get adjusted to. It’s a big issue in Indy car so to do a one lap thing is important and it’s tough, you see the guys that have been around do really well so I’m going to take in as much information as soon as I can, as quick as I can and try to transfer that into results.”
Herta’s time to shine is coming if he can keep the form he had at the Rolex 24 where he snatched a victory following a competitor’s badly-timed pit stop. Time will tell.