By David Morgan, Associate Editor
NASHVILLE – The agony of defeat.
With Marcus Ericsson in his sights, Colton Herta was on a mission to chase him down and retake the lead before the laps and the sunlight ran out in the inaugural running of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.
But in a cruel twist of fate, the same turn that had bit so many others throughout the weekend would also be the site of Herta’s undoing with five laps to go, crushing the dreams of victory for the man many thought would be hoisting the trophy when the checkered flag flew.
After sweeping both practices and decimating the field in qualifying, it looked to be Herta’s race to lose, especially after leading nearly half the event with 39 laps up front, but numerous cautions and the resulting pit strategy put the Andretti Autosport hotshoe in a position in which he had to push harder to try and make up lost ground.
As the laps wound down, Herta reclaimed second place and it seemed to only be a matter of time before he would be able to catch and pass Ericsson en route to the win, but a near-miss bobble into Turn 9 allowed Ericsson to pull away.
Despite the setback, Herta was able to shake it off, getting back in the battle as he charged forward, but with five laps to go, he pushed his Honda a bit too far coming off the high-speed return leg of the 11-turn, 2.17-mile street course on the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge, with a big slide in Turn 9 that ended with a heavy thud into the wall, bringing his day to a disappointing end.
“I feel terrible,” Herta said afterwards. “We had the car to win and man, I just threw it away. I feel really bad. I’m okay. I know I didn’t get my hands off the wheel, but they’re okay…This place is brutal. I think we saw that, but thank you everyone for coming out.
“Congrats to Marcus, he drove a hell of a race there at the end. I didn’t think he was going to make it. He just kept pulling away from me, so good job to him. I just feel terrible for the team. Everybody involved, Gainbridge, Honda. It was terrible on my part.
“I was just pushing to get ahead of him as soon as I could and I just overdid it.”
In celebrating the win, Ericsson gave a nod to Herta, noting that he had a fight on his hands with the youngster in the late stages of the race.
“In the end I think when Colton was behind me and I had to do a really big fuel number to get us to the finish line and still keep him behind, that was one of the toughest challenges of my career,” Ericsson said. “I’m very proud that I could keep him behind and keep the pace up. That won me the race.
“He was putting a lot of pressure on me. At one point I think he did a mistake in nine as well because he suddenly was two seconds off. They kept telling me a higher fuel number all the time. I was like, Oh, my God. I was having to save more and more fuel all the time. Colton was right up my gearbox.
“He did a mistake, dropped like two seconds. I got a bit of breathing room. I saw again he got close to that gap again. Obviously, I saw the caution come out. They told me it was Colton. I didn’t know it was Colton until there was caution.”