Harding Steinbrenner Racing‘s rookie, Colton Herta, experienced a weekend of two halves during the 2019 REV Group Grand Prix event at Road America. Herta made NTT IndyCar Series history on Saturday when he claimed pole position, becoming the youngest ever to do so. Sadly, tyre issues throughout Sunday’s race saw Herta finish only eighth.
It is fair to say that Colton Herta’s first half of his rookie season in IndyCar has been a mix of the highest highs and the lowest lows. After claiming a sensational victory in the second race of the season at the Circuit of the Americas – becoming the youngest-ever driver to win an IndyCar race in the process – Colton has had a really rough run of results.
The next seven races after COTA all ended in a finish outside of the top twelve, with three of those being race retirements. Having fallen from the top five in the championship standings to the outside of the top twelve, Herta arrived at Road America determined to turn his season around.
The weekend got off to a great start during qualifying on Saturday. Along with Andretti Autosport‘s Alexander Rossi, Colton was astonishingly fast in every session. The fight for pole position came down to a straight duel between the pair, with Herta pulling off a run of two-consecutive laps in the final session; the latter of which being enough to take pole position by just under two-tenths of a second.
The result meant that Herta would become the youngest ever pole-sitter in IndyCar history; breaking the previous record set by Graham Rahal at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2008. After the session, Herta commented that he was “so happy” with pole position and that he and the team would be keeping an eye on the weather for potential showers that had been rumoured for race day.
“I’m so happy with how the day went,” Herta said on Saturday, “The No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda guys are all working so hard and well together. The car was fast. This is the first time that we’ve had that edge in qualifying to go for pole and I loved it. We really took advantage of it and got the best starting position for tomorrow. Now we’ll keep checking the weather and make changes accordingly so we can have a great race.”
For Sunday’s race, Herta had somewhat of a different strategy compared to those around him for both the first and last stint. Herta started the race with used alternate tyres. The difference in grip looked immediately apparent. Herta got the jump on Rossi at the drop of the green flag, but Alexander was able to use the slipstream to draw back alongside Colton into turn one. Rossi was able to hold his car around the outside and was then able to complete the pass for the lead on the exit of turn two.
From there, Rossi would sprint away into the distance, whilst Herta would soon begin to fall back due to his ever-worsening tyre situation. At the first pit-stop, his race would get even harder. Problems with the fuel hose saw a delayed pit-stop for Herta, with Colton rejoining the race down in ninth place after having pitted from third.
Herta would then hit more strife whilst racing Team Penske‘s Simon Pagenaud for position at turn three. Herta tried to make a move around the outside of the Frenchman, but Colton looked to squeeze Simon to the inside a little too much. The pair made contact, which sent both into the run-off area on the exit of the corner. Both Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist would pass Herta as a result.
Herta would soon work his way back by Dixon, Rosenqvist and then James Hinchcliffe to move back up into fifth place for the final few laps of the race. However, Harding Steinbrenner Racing had put Colton on fresh alternate tyres for the final stint. The tyres helped him to get into fifth place initially, but as the race drew to a close, Colton was beginning to struggle for grip as the tyres faded away.
Dixon would soon demote Herta back down into sixth-place, with the second Ganassi car of Rosenqvist following suit on the final lap to push Colton into seventh place at turn three. The tyres were absolutely gone, as evidenced when Colton understeered off the track at the high-speed kink; thus losing him another position to Hinchcliffe.
Herta would hold on to take eighth place at the chequered flag; a disappointing end to what could have been an incredible day after starting from pole position. Despite the disappointing result, Colton said that his #88 Honda had been “a lot of fun to drive” and that he would now be getting his head down to prepare for the next race in Canada in a few weeks time.
“Tough day at Road America today,” a frustrated Herta said after the race on Sunday, “We struggled on the Firestone red [alternate] tires, which caused us to lose a few spots at the end of the race. But overall, the No. 88 GESS RNG Biogas Capstone Honda guys were great all weekend. The car was so quick, it was a lot of fun to drive it. Now we shift focus to street course racing in Toronto.”
Herta would go on to add further comments regarding his tyre degradation issues on Twitter after the race. The following day, after seeing negative comments made toward his team regarding his race strategy, Herta responded by saying that he was as responsible for the strategy as his team had been.
“I’m seeing a lot of bad comments about my team and their decision on tyre strategy,” Herta tweeted, “I was just as much to blame for this. I was in the meetings and we had a clear plan on what we were gonna d. [There is] no one to blame. We win together and we lose together. We didn’t execute but we’ll learn.”
Despite only finishing in eighth place, Herta will take solace in the fact that he has finally ended his run of consecutive results outside of the top ten. He currently sits down in fourteenth place in the championship standings with 184-points to his name; trailing the highest-placed rookie, Felix Rosenqvist, by just twenty-six points.
Herta will be hoping to make in-roads into Rosenqvist’s advantage in the rookie of the year fight at the next round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series in a handful of weeks. The 2019 Honda Indy Toronto will take place on Sunday, July 14.