By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
MONTEREY, California – The 19-year-old Californian sensation Colton Herta has had a life changing Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Not only he’ll be joining forces with Andretti Autosport next season under the name Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport, he scored his second consecutive NTT P1 Pole Award with a time of 1:10.1405 (114.867 mph).
His pole at the 2.238-mile circuit adds another commonality with his father, Bryan Herta, as he won three straight poles from 1997-99. Now heading into Sunday’s 90-lap main event, he’ll be looking to add his name alongside his dad and make the Hertas the first father-son to win in Monterey as Bryan won back-to-back in 1998 and 1999.
“It obviously means a lot with the family history, and 50 percent of his IndyCar wins coming from here,” Herta said. “Obviously it means a lot to kind of keep on the family tradition.”
Prior to scoring his third career NTT IndyCar Series pole, Herta was strong in both testing and Friday’s practice sessions. However, he was only seventh fastest in Saturday morning’s final session but certainly kept fighting to get the best starting spot possible which he was successful.
“Honestly, going into practice 3, I thought maybe we lacked a little bit, and we didn’t have quite as big of a gap,” Herta said. “We were P7, and we needed to find a little bit of time, so I was going to be happy to make it into the Fast Six. That would be an improvement. But we got there and we led every group that we were in, so I knew that if we dialed a lap in and we put it together, we could be on pole.”
The major announcement before qualifying was Herta joining the Michael Andretti led team. Therefore, he’ll become teammates with championship contender Alexander Rossi, former series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach.
Herta said it’s a big fortunate deal to now be apart of INDYCAR’s elite and thankful to extend his relationship with Andretti Harding Steinbrenner, who’s given him the amazing opportunity to showcase what he’s made of on a full-time basis.
“I’m very fortunate to get a deal with the top three teams in the series, obviously. Everybody says Penske, Ganassi and Andretti are the top three teams in the series right now, so honored to be in that,” Herta said. “Like I’ve said through this whole process of choosing a team, it had to make more sense than the situation I’m in, and a lot of them maybe didn’t.
“I had the opportunity with Michael and to also bring Harding and Steinbrenner with me, which was important because they gave me my start in IndyCar and truly believed in me, and I didn’t have a full season ride from anyone except for them. It meant a lot to stay with them and bring them with me, and hopefully we can continue our progress.”
Although sitting 14th in points and trailing NTT IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year points leader Felix Rosenqvist, who will start 14th, by 49 points, he’ll be focusing on scoring win No. 2 to cap off a topsy turvy season.
It’s consisted the highest of highs included his maiden win at Circuit of the Americas, the lowest of lows like three last-place finishes in a four-race span following his win, and other hurdles like not having Patricio O’Ward as a teammate and sponsorship concerns.
Herta took the time thanking his No. 88 team and primary sponsor, Capstone Turbine Corporation, to close out the season as there was a concern how long his season would’ve last had they not step up at the right time.
“It’s been a roller coaster and a lot of questions about the team and the financial stability, and no, they worked hard,” Herta said. “Mike hard worked. George worked hard, the whole team, all the PR department, Liz worked hard, and to find the money to keep the team going, and honestly, yeah, there’s a point in the season around Mid-Ohio that we weren’t going to show up at Gateway.
“We weren’t sure. And then everybody stuck it up and put in the money that we needed to and we signed some good deals, obviously Capstone being the most important to bring from Mid-Ohio onward or Toronto onwards to the rest of the season. Very grateful for them, and they’re the whole reason that I was able to finish out the season.”
Regarding O’Ward, who ultimately ended up driving for Carling early on before going to Super Formula, Herta believes the combo would’ve been amazing as they’ve had amazing battles over the years.
“Obviously we were really close in Indy Lights and able to push each other a lot. I’m sure it would have been the same thing,” Herta on O’Ward. “Offensive end I’m sure if all the poles that I have, I’m sure he was going to match, too. It definitely would have made my life a little bit harder, but it definitely would have made me better, and that’s what IndyCar is about is the competition aspect and everybody being so close. I was on pole by four hundredths, right? So obviously you can’t leave anything on the line.”
When reflecting from where he was in his series debut at Sonoma Raceway last year to now with one race left in his rookie campaign, Herta said outside of his hair being longer, knowing the paddock, providing stronger feedback and nailing down a picturesque qualifying lap has helped him tremendously.
“I think I qualified 16th and finished 18th or qualified 18th and finished 20th (last year at Sonoma). That just kind of shows what I’ve done in a year and all the progress that’s happened,” Herta said. “Not only me but my feedback to the team and working on making the car better is so vital in this series because although it’s a stock series, everybody runs the same stuff, there’s differences in setup and what you feel through the car can make a car quite a bit better and really nailing that down, and obviously we have the one-lap pace down, so now we’re working on the race pace.”
The 17th and final round of the season will start at 3:15 pm EST, airing live on NBC.