(AUSTIN, TX) At three of the four NTT IndyCar Series testing sessions held pre-season at the Circuit of the Americas road course, 18-year-old rookie Colton Herta (Harding Steinbrenner Racing) claimed the fastest lap time of the day.
Perhaps it provided the foreshadowing of a bright future for the second generation racer.
Starting fourth on the grid at Sunday’s inaugural IndyCar Classic, Herta stayed within the top five from the opening green and capitalized on good fortune to take the 60-lap feature with ten laps remaining en route to his first IndyCar victory.
The son of former IndyCar and Champ Car driver Bryan Herta claimed the checkered flags by 2.7 seconds over current series points leader Josef Newgarden (Team Penske).
Just six days shy from turning nineteen, Herta’s triumph makes him the youngest driver to win an IndyCar event. Veteran Graham Rahal, who finished Sunday’s event fourth, previously held the benchmark (19 years, 3 months, 2 days) after winning the 2008 race in St. Petersburg.
For Herta, consider Lone Star victory an early, but exhausting, birthday present.
“Holy crap, I am worn out,” Herta said after the two-hour race. “I need a nap. We were not expecting win. I knew we were going to get a podium. We knew we had the pace for that. It was a big team effort.”
The COTA duke also marked a youth movement for the day as Harding Steinbrenner Racing, launched last September, claimed their inaugural IndyCar win and made 22-year-old car owner George Steinbrenner IV (of the New York Yankees’ lineage) the youngest to have their driver reach the winner’s circle.
“Colton hit all his marks and did everything right,” Steinbrenner said. “We knew we had all the capabilities (to win). We knew we had the driver, the crew, the equipment. Everyone did such a fantastic job. It was just a matter of everything falling into the right place. I’m shaking right now.”
Everything worked on the team’s end but it did take bad luck for other competitors that resulted in a shift of the race’s complexion.
Pole sitter Will Power (Team Penske) maintained the lead for the race’s first forty laps on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course. The Aussie veteran, who was currently sitting second in the points standings behind Newgarden, seemed poised to snare is first win of the season and net his team a $100,000 bonus on the day for capturing the win from the pole position.
On Lap 44, the afternoon’s first yellow flag waived after rookie Felix Rosenqvists’ crash in Turn 19. During the caution, Power went to the pits in preparation of a late-race dash. However, the No. 7 Chevrolet stalled and would not get into gear, even after multiple attempts to force the car to drive. A broken drive shaft resulted in Power’s DNF finish in Lap 46.
More importantly, the caution allowed Herta, who had just pitted the lap prior to the Rosenqvist incident, to remain on the track while challengers Newgarden, Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) and Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) all had to pit, which catapulted the rookie into the top spot.
On the restart in Lap 50, Herta officially claimed the only lead change with the No. 88 Harding Stenibrenner Racing Honda and staved the final push from Newgarden for the win at the inaugural IndyCar COTA race that went a few ticks beyond two hours and had an average speed of 102.271 MPH.
With the runner-up finish, Newgarden unofficially sports an 18-point lead over Herta in the standings after two of seventeen events.
Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport) finished third for his first podium of the season.
The NTT IndyCar Series continues with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, April 7.
Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison hosts the stop #14 of the series, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500, on Saturday, August 24.