Colton Herta has made history by becoming the youngest ever NTT IndyCar Series race winner after taking victory in today’s 2019 IndyCar Classic at the Circuit of the Americas. Herta, making only his third IndyCar start in the #88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda, took over the lead after mechanical issue struck the dominant leader, Will Power. From there, Herta never looked back and took the victory by almost three seconds.
For much of IndyCar’s inaugural race at the Circuit of the Americas, it looked as though we were in for a masterclass from Team Penske‘s Will Power. The Australian was in the hunt for the victory after starting the race from pole position, with Will determined to take home the extra $100,000 bonus prize for winning the race from pole.
Power looked strong for almost the entire race. Whilst he did not streak off into the distance, he maintained the lead of the race for forty-five of the sixty-lap race distance. Sadly, however, Power’s race was turned on its head during the final pit-stop sequence.
Many of the leaders had made their final pit-stops, except for first-placed Power, second-placed Alexander Rossi and third-placed Scott Dixon. All of a sudden, Felix Rosenqvist was sent spinning into the wall just before the final corner after making contact with James Hinchcliffe. This brought out the one and only caution of the race, thus closing the pit-lane and preventing Rossi and Power from making their stops until the field had been bunched up behind the safety car.
The ensuing pit-stop during the caution period would mean that the three previous race leaders would be forced to restart well down the order; as most of the field had already made their final stops and would stay out on the track without pitting again. However, Power did not even get the opportunity to restart the race.
The #12 Penske crew finished the pit-stop with no dramas, but Power was unable to pull away. Despite multiple attempts, Power could rev his Chevrolet as much as he wanted, but no movement would follow. After a few minutes of inspection from the team, the decision was made to retire the car; with what would later be diagnosed as a broken driveshaft. It was a gut-wrenching way for Power’s race to end, given the absolute clinic that he had put on beforehand.
The stage was set for a ten lap shoot-out to end the race. Thanks to the mix-up in the order, Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s rookie, Colton Herta, would lead the field to green on the restart. The teenager had looked so impressive at stages throughout the race, but it had previously looked as though he was falling away from the prior race leaders.
Now, Herta had to hold off a number of series veterans who were restarting right on his gearbox. His main threat, the reigning race-winner and 2017 champion, Josef Newgarden. To make things tenser, Newgarden had almost triple the amount of push-to-pass boost that Herta had.
On the restart, Herta got away well. In just half a lap, Colton was able to pull out a lead of over a second. From there, you might have expected the gap to start shrinking. In fact, the exact opposite happened. Despite all the pressure of a potential first win, Herta refused to buckle. He would extend the gap further and further to the cars behind, with his lead growing to as much as four seconds at one point.
On the sixtieth and final lap of the race, Herta began to back down the pace of his #88 Honda; just hoping to make it to the finish with zero mistakes. Even prior to the race defining caution, Herta had put in a performance that you would expect from a series veteran; not a driver in just his third IndyCar start.
Herta had entered the weekend being touted as a potential dark horse for the victory after the American had impressed so much in the two days of pre-season testing held at COTA in February. The weekend was far from a cakewalk, however, as his Harding Steinbrenner Racing team were forced to miss an entire practice session after an engine failure on Friday.
After a fantastic effort by the team to get the #88 Honda back to full health, Herta would reward his crew with a fantastic effort in both qualifying and the race. Having started fourth, Herta may have had hopes for a potential podium. However, Herta would exceed that by taking the chequered flag to take his and Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s first IndyCar race victory.
Herta’s astonishing win came in only his third IndyCar race; having made his race debut with Harding at last year’s season-finale at Sonoma Raceway. The win, having come so early in his IndyCar career, has seen him make series history by becoming the youngest ever race winner. Graham Rahal previously held the record, having won aged nineteen. At the age of eighteen, Herta now holds that accolade.
Trailing the newest race winner by almost three seconds at the end of the race was second-placed Josef Newgarden. It was a great result for the Penske driver after he was left frustrated by failing to make the final round of qualifying on Saturday. His win at the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, coupled with his runner-up finish today, means that Newgarden will hold onto the championship lead heading into the third round of the season at Barber Motorsports Park; one of his strongest tracks on the calendar.
Rounding out the podium positions would be Andretti Autosport‘s Ryan Hunter-Reay. A podium finish was a great way to bounce back from his disappointing retirement back at St. Petersburg. He’ll be hoping to be back on the podium, maybe even on the top spot, next time out in two weeks time.
Graham Rahal fought wheel-to-wheel numerous times during the race en-route to finishing fourth. It was a strong finish for the American driver, but it was not as impressive as the drive by fifth-placed Sebastien Bourdais. The Frenchman was forced to start the race all the way down in seventeenth place after being caught out by a red flag in qualifying. His rise all the way up to fifth was a fantastic recovery drive; earning him a decent haul of championship points.
It was a similarly impressive drive from Andretti Herta‘s Marco Andretti. Marco, too, was hampered by the red flags in qualifying and started the race way down in twentieth. He would finish the race in sixth place, with Takuma Sato coming home just behind him in seventh place.
Eighth place would go the way of the returning Patricio O’Ward, who was making his second IndyCar start and his first behind the wheel of the #31 Carlin Chevrolet. O’Ward was responsible for perhaps the most exciting battle of the race, going wheel-to-wheel with Rahal for much of the final sector of the lap, culminating in a sublime pass around the outside of the eighteenth turn. Pato, racing part-time for Carlin, will be hoping to impress once again at the next race in Alabama.
After running in the top three for the entire race prior to the caution toward the end of the race, Alexander Rossi would take the chequered flag in ninth place. The Andretti driver had restarted the race well outside of the top ten, but he put in a combative drive to come home in ninth. Nevertheless, he will be left rueing what could have been a decent day for his championship hopes.
The final spot in the top ten would go the way of Meyer Shank Racing‘s Jack Harvey. The British driver started the race in the penultimate spot of twenty-third after causing one of the two red flags in qualifying. Despite this, Jack put in a fantastic drive to take his and the team’s second-straight top ten finish; having also finished in tenth place back at St. Petersburg. He’ll be wanting to continue his and the team’s fantastic start to the season over the course of the next few races.
Further back, reigning series champion Scott Dixon would finish the race outside of the top ten in thirteenth place; a disappointing result after having been on track for at least a top-five finish. He finished the race just ahead of his former team-mate, Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa‘s Ed Jones, who took fourteenth place despite driving with a fractured left hand. The Dubai-born British driver may have even threatened the top ten, were it not for a rapid loss of positions over the course of the final laps.
Arrow Schmidt Peterson‘s Marcus Ericsson had been running well inside the top ten for much of the race, but an unsafe release after a pit-stop, which saw him make contact with Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot, saw the Swedish driver put to the back for the later race restart. Despite this, he would finish the race ahead of his team-mate, James Hinchcliffe, albeit with the pair coming home down in fifteenth and sixteenth respectively.
The results table was bookended by two drivers who will leave COTA severely disappointed. Having set the fastest lap of the entire weekend during the second round of qualifying yesterday, Rosenqvist looked to not have nearly as much speed during the race. He ultimately finished the race five laps down after his late accident after making contact with Hinchcliffe.
The twenty-fourth and final driver on the leaderboard was Will Power. Power could have easily taken the win and the $100,000 bonus were it not for the ill-timed caution and his #12 Chevrolet’s driveshaft failure. He will be hoping to bounce back at the next race in two weeks time and that this is not the start of a run of bad luck like had had last season when he failed to finish on four occasions.
The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series will be back in action for the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, April 7.
2019 NTT IndyCar Series – IndyCar Classic – Race results:
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