Herta Family Collects St. Pete Victory

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 26 2021

IndyCar’s Colton Herta drove a near-perfect race in Florida on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Colton Herta readily admits there was a time when, like many sons, he didn’t want to hear anything from his father.

“Growing up, I had a lot of arrogance…from probably like age 10 to like 14,” said Herta, like father Bryan, a winning INDYCAR driver. “No, probably earlier than that, like 6, when I started karting to like 14. And then I realized…bigger, faster cars, I learned more about the sport, I was like, ‘Hey, he actually knows what he’s talking about.’

“Actually, I’ve grown a lot since then, so the situation works a lot better.”

The situation on a sun-splashed Florida Sunday afternoon saw Colton and Bryan Herta collaborate and execute a near-flawless race plan en route to a rout in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. With Bryan Herta calling strategy from the pits, Colton started on-pole and proceeded to lead an event-record 97 of 100 laps around a temporary 1.8-mile/14-turn street circuit that incorporates an airport runway.

Colton’s fourth victory in his 34th INDYCAR start matched the total recorded by his dad during a career spanning 181 races from 1994 to 2006, including 58 in what is now the NTT IndyCar Series. And so it was that Colton, 21, was asked if he should consider himself the best Herta in INDYCAR history.

The best Herta. I don’t know,” Colton said with a laugh. “I think we’re even on wins, but I think he still has like eight more poles than I do.” For the record, Bryan Herta, now 51, has, like nine career poles, four more than his kid.

“Obviously I’ve got some more time to get to that, but hard to say,” Colton said. “Hard to say.”

Driver of the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport, Colton finished 2.4933- seconds ahead of two-time series champion Josef Newgarden in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden also had won the series’ two previous events at St. Pete.

Fittingly, Sunday’s result was a much-needed points reprieve for both. Recall that Newgarden initiated a first-lap crash that knocked himself, Herta and multiple cars out of the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of Alabama one week earlier at Barber Motorsports Park. Herta finished 22nd and Newgarden 23rd in the 24-car field on the natural-terrain layout in Birmingham, Ala.

“What a great job by everybody,” Colton said Sunday. “I’m so happy we did this, so happy to rebound from Barber and get the momentum going for the season that we need, which is a championship season.”

Herta’s average speed was 96.552 mph in a race slowed by just three full-course cautions for nine laps. All 24 drivers in the field coped with air temperatures in the low 80s and high humidity during an event that lasted a little over 1 hour, 51 minutes.

Simon Pagenaud, the 2016 series champion, rounded-out the podium in third in the No. 22 Menards/Australian Gold Team Penske Chevrolet. Front-row starter Jack Harvey placed fourth in the No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda fielded by Meyer Shank Racing. And six-time/reigning series champion Scott Dixon finished fifth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Alex Palou, who scored his first series win at BMP, finished 17th in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda but retained the championship point lead, 67-65, over Will Power. The 2014 series champion, Power rallied from a 20th starting spot to finish eighth in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet.

Herta, who started the race on Firestone’s red/alternate tires, chose the black/primary tires on his final pit stop on Lap 67. Newgarden was forced to use reds on his final stop on Lap 67 since he started on blacks and used another set of primary tires on his first stop.

It appeared tire strategy would be moot three laps after those final stops, as Herta led Newgarden by a massive 9.4390-seconds on Lap 70. But rookie Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champ, spun and clipped the inside wall in Turn 3 with his No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on Lap 73. That incident triggered the second full-course caution and negated Herta’s comfortable lead.

On the ensuing restart on Lap 76, Newgarden and his grippier alternate tires made a run at Herta but could not get close enough to pass. Minutes later the No. 18 SealMaster Honda of Ed Jones, the No. 29 Genesys Honda of James Hinchcliffe and the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet of Pato O’Ward made contact in Turn 4 on Lap 79, triggering the final full-course caution on Lap 80.

That gave Newgarden another run at Herta during the restart on Lap 83. Newgarden drew close to Herta in an all-American duel for the next 10 laps, but Herta kept his cool and gradually pulled away for the victory.

“He’s so good around here,” Herta said of Newgarden. “I was nervous because he was on those new red tires. I thought they were going to be better. But they ended up being similar (to the primary tires), so I was able to hold him off.”

Newgarden, who spent the week apologizing to all caught up in his Barber mess, said, “We lost a little too much ground on that second stint to capitalize on the reds. Then we had the caution, which almost gifted us another chance. I just didn’t want to overextend myself today. I felt like I had close to an opportunity, but Colton was really good. He was doing a great job on the restarts.

“Congrats to Colton. It’s a great rebound for both of us. I felt bad about what happened last week, so really happy he got back on it today and had a very deserved victory. I wish we could have fought him a bit more. We were just lacking a little bit.”

Colton, now in his third NTT IndyCar Series season, said sharing the win with his father was special. “I love that he’s on my radio,“ Colton said. “I think most people thought it wasn’t going to work and a lot of people had their doubts. I think we’re both pretty level-headed and we don’t kind of get all the way up here or down here.

“I think it works really well. Obviously, a lot of people know how good he is at strategy, and that was the main reason why I wanted him on there, right? So far, no complications and we’ve been doing a good job pace-wise and the strategy today was flawless, all the pit stops were amazing. It seems to be smooth sailing.

“You know, the most important thing for me was being able to share it with him, which was incredible. He’s done so much for my career, more than anybody has. Him and my mom have always been there for me. Early on, right, you don’t start getting paid as a race car driver and they financially backed me for a lot of my racing career. Really thankful to them and all the support that they’ve given me and all the support he’s given me and advice.

“I love both of them so much, and if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here, so I can’t rub it in to him that much.”

The series switches disciplines in a major way next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, where the first two oval-track events of the season are scheduled back-to-back. The Genesys 300-miler is set for 7 p.m. (EDT) Saturday, May 1, on the high-banked/1.5-mile oval followed by the XPEL 375-miler at 5 p.m. Sunday, May 2. Both races, paying full points, will be aired on NBC Sports Network as preludes to practice for the Month of May and the 105th edition of the Indianapolis on Sunday, May 30.


Results of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg NTT IndyCar Series race on the 1.8-mile/14-turn Streets of St. Pete circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (1) Colton Herta, Honda, 100, Running
    2. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 100, Running
    3. (4) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 100, Running
    4. (2) Jack Harvey, Honda, 100, Running
    5. (8) Scott Dixon, Honda, 100, Running
    6. (15) Takuma Sato, Honda, 100, Running
    7. (16) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 100, Running
    8. (20) Will Power, Chevrolet, 100, Running
    9. (7) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 100, Running
    10. (5) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 100, Running
    11. (14) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 100, Running
    12. (17) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 100, Running
    13. (18) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 100, Running
    14. (13) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 100, Running
    15. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 100, Running
    16. (19) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 100, Running
    17. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 99, Running
    18. (12) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 99, Running
    19. (6) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 99, Running
    20. (21) Ed Jones, Honda, 99, Running
    21. (11) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 98, Running
    22. (23) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 95, Running
    23. (24) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 67, Off Course
    24. (22) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 18, Mechanical  

    Race Statistics
    Winner’s average speed:96.552 mph
    Time of Race:1:51:51.4115
    Margin of victory: 2.4933-seconds
    Cautions: 3 for 9 laps
    Lead changes: 3 among 3 drivers

    Lap Leaders: Herta 1-34, Pagenaud 35, Palou 36-37, Herta 38-100

Point standings: 1, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 67; 2, Will Power, Team Penske, tie, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 65; 4, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 62; 5, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 54; 6, Jack Harvey, Meyer Shank Racing, tie, Sebastien Bourdais, A.J. Foyt Racing, and Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing, 51; 9, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 50; 10, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 47.


Sunday, April 18 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala. (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, April 25 _Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport)

Saturday, May 1 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 1, Fort Worth (NBCSN)

Sunday, May 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 2, Fort Worth (NBCSN)

Saturday, May 15 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (NBC)

Sunday, May 30 _ The 105th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (NBC)

Saturday, June 12 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1, Detroit (NBC)

Sunday, June 13 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2, Detroit (NBC)

Sunday, June 20 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (NBCSN)

Sunday, July 4 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio (NBC)

Sunday, July 11 _ Streets of Toronto (NBCSN)

Sunday, Aug. 8 _ Streets of Nashville, Tenn. (NBCSN)

Saturday, Aug. 14 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (NBCSN)

Saturday, Aug. 21 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill. (NBCSN)

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif. (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif. (NBCSN)


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 26 2021
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