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Teen Herta Would Love To Make Indy History

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 21 2019
At 19 years old, Colton Herta is already making IndyCar Series history. In May, he hopes to make more. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – It is a question Colton Herta, already the youngest race-winner in INDYCAR history, will be hearing often heading into and during the Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Who is the youngest winner of the Indy 500?

“Oh, I know it was in 1922 maybe…he was 22-years-old,” Herta said Friday on lunch break during his first NTT IndyCar Series oval track test at Texas Motor Speedway. “No, it was 1952 and he was 22…and what’s his name?”

The answer is…Troy Ruttman, who was 22 years and 80 days old when he won the 36th edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’’ on May 30, 1952. Ruttman qualified his No. 98 Offenhauser-powered Agajanian Kuzma Roadster seventh and led the 200-lapper four times for 44 laps en route to finishing a massive 4 minutes, 02.36-seconds in front of Jim Rathmann. It is a record Ruttman took to his grave on May 19, 1997 at the age of 67.

“Troy Ruttman! I should have known,” said Herta, who turned 19 on March 30, just six days after winning the inaugural INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. Herta was 18 years, 11 months and 25 days old on that Sunday when he finished P1 in just his second series start. That box dutifully checked-off, the revamped ownership of Harding Steinbrenner Racing immediately set Colton’s sights on winning the 103rd edition of the Indy 500 on May 26.

Colton Herta, the son of former driver and current team owner Bryan Herta, is already a race winner. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

“That and the championship win,” said Herta, the son of former INDYCAR driver and current team co-owner Bryan Herta. “I really want to win here, though. I want to shoot the pistols. That’s such a cool thing. I already have a cowboy hat from COTA, so I’d like another one as well. Obviously, an Indy 500 win would top everything. That’s the whole reason we do this. It’s to win Indy. It’s such a marquee event and I think the biggest race in the world in all of motorsports.”

The first four races of the 2019 season have been evenly split between two street and two natural-terrain road-courses. Curiously, there are no oval track events scheduled before the series invades the 2.5-mile IMS oval, as well as the 2.439-mile road-course for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11. So, TMS and its high-banked/1.5-mile layout served as an introduction to big-time oval track racing for Herta and fellow-rookies Marcus Ericsson of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Ben Hanley of DragonSpeed. INDYCAR also has booked at open test at IMS on April 24.

TMS will host the DXC Technology 600 _ “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Series Race”_ on Saturday, June 8. The weekend also will include the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Rattlesnake 400 night race on June 7.

Native Brit Hanley’s five-race INDYCAR schedule does not include TMS in 2019. But Herta and Ericsson, a former Formula One driver from Sweden, have begun compiling notes for their returns to Cowtown.

“It’s crazy,” said Herta, driver of the No. 88 Honda. “I’ve never gone this fast before. It’s definitely a big step up from anything I’ve done so kinda taking it in baby steps and slowly moving up through the ranks, taking a little downforce off as we go and trying to get as quick as possible. We haven’t gone like full trim yet so I think we’ve gone maybe 217 (mph), 218 on new (Firestone) tires and probably hovering around 214, 215 on old tires.”

Herta’s COTA win was followed by two reality checks _ a 24th and last-place finish at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., and a 23rd and last-place result in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Competing in Indy Lights last season, Herta scored three of his four race victories at IMS. He won both Grand Prix of Indianapolis events on the road-course and the Freedom 100 on the big oval en route to a second-place point finish for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, co-owned by Michael Andretti and George Steinnbrenner IV.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing is co-owned by Indianapolis-based asphalt/paving businessman Mike Harding and Steinbrenner IV, the son of New York Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner. George IV is the namesake of the late and colorful Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, aka, “The Boss.” The adjective Herta most often ascribes to his open-wheel calling, and his association with Steinbrenner _ youngest team-owner in IndyCar Series history_ is “crazy.”

“Mr. Steinbrenner is 22. Our age combined is a lot younger that most of the team-owners in the field. So it’s pretty crazy when you think of it that way,” said Herta, whose braintrust includes team president Brian Barnhart and driving coach Al Unser Jr., a two-time winner of the Indy 500.

“It is (crazy),” said Herta, whose team shares an engineering alliance with Andretti Technologies. “I think just letting people go around a track (like TMS) this fast is a bit nutty, don’t you think? The fact that we enjoy it is a bit crazier. A lot of stuff has happened this year that we didn’t think was going to happen, whether it be good or bad, and we’ve definitely had a wave of emotions going up and down.

“The main thing is we’ve been fast everywhere we’ve gone _ we’ve been extremely fast everywhere we’ve gone _ and we’ve been in position to be in the top three in pace everywhere we’ve gone, too. So if we can continue this trend, I’m sure we’ll be up in the podium spots again and, hopefully, up for another win this year.”

Herta grew up in North Los Angeles as a Dodgers fan, but admittedly strayed from the game in recent years. “Having this connection has brought me back in,” Herta said. “It’s great because I can root for the Dodgers and the Yankees because they’re in different leagues, and when they play each other, I root for the Yankees.”

And yes, Herta has met Yankees home run-slugging outfielder Aaron Judge. “Yeah, I was…(looking up) ‘Hello, Mr. Judge.’ That guy is an animal,” Herta said of the 6-foot-7, 282-pound Judge. “I think it’s pretty crazy what he’s done coming right up from Triple-A and into the majors. Pretty insane.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 21 2019
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