After an utterly dominant race weekend at the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series finale, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Harding Steinbrenner Racing‘s Colton Herta has described his race as “perfect” and that he and the team “definitely deserved to win.”
After leading the way following a six-hour test on Thursday, Colton topped the opening practice session on Friday and remained fast throughout the remaining sessions in the lead up to qualifying. He entered the session, unsurprisingly, as one of the favourites for pole position, with his chances increasing after his fellow rookie and rival, Felix Rosenqvist, received a penalty and was unable to advance out of the first round.
In the end, Herta would go on to lead each round of qualifying and would take pole position with a superb lap-time of 1:10.1405. The result would be his third pole position in his rookie season and his second in a row after starting from the front at the previous race, the Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway.
“I’m doing something right, the team is doing something right,” Herta said of his great form in practice and qualifying at Laguna Seca, “We obviously had a great car this whole weekend, and after leading coming just straight off the truck and leading, being P2 in the morning and Thursday, leading the day Thursday and leading practice 1, being there in practice 2 and 3 and obviously getting the pole, it just shows the charisma of the team and everything we’re doing has been in the right directions. Obviously it feels great, now it’s two poles in two weekends.”
A look at the results of Sunday’s race would suggest that it was a walk in the park for Herta. However, it was not as straightforward as the results table makes out. Herta was able to convert his pole position into the race lead at the end of lap one, holding off an early attempt from reigning champion, Scott Dixon, to get by. Dixon tried to get around the outside of Colton at turn two, but Colton was firm in his defence as he edged Dixon to the outside of the circuit on the exit of the corner.
For much of the race after that, Dixon would remain right on the coat-tails of Herta for the race lead. Dixon stayed within a second of Herta for a vast majority of the race but rarely got close enough to attempt an overtake. After the final pit-stops with less than thirty laps remaining, a new challenger emerged for Herta, with Team Penske‘s Will Power emerging from his final stop right on the back of Colton and ahead of Dixon.
Power looked to have a much better chance of pulling off a pass on Herta, with Will able to remain as close as half a second behind Colton. However, again, a realistic chance at an overtake never quite materialized for Power. Two mistakes on the penultimate lap of the race saw Power drop back to over a second and a half behind, but he managed to close right in as the pair entered the final corner on the final lap. Power attempted a last-minute desperate dive, but he wasn’t close enough to Herta to get alongside.
In the end, Herta would cross the line to take the race win with an advantage of just over half a second to Power in second-place. The victory would be the second of his rookie season, following on from his surprise victory in the second race of the season at the Circuit of the Americas back in March.
The win was a special one for Colton, as WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca has been a great hunting ground for the Herta family in the past. His father, Bryan Herta, is a two-time race winner at the circuit, having stood on the top step of the podium back in 1998 and 1999.
The victory was also enough to see Colton leapfrog a number of positions to take seventh place in the overall championship standings. With Felix Rosenqvist finishing in fifth place, Herta was not quite able to steal the rookie of the year honours, missing out by just five points.
After the race, Colton said that the race had been “perfect” for him and that he and the #88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing simply “outdid” the competition.
“Yeah, it was a perfect race,” Colton said on Sunday, “Whenever you win an INDYCAR race, it has to be a perfect race. You can’t really make mistakes and get away with it, just because there are always two or three other guys on that day that can win. For sure there were a few guys that could win today, and we just outdid them. We had the pace on them, and we were definitely the best today, so we definitely deserved to win.”
Herta will end his rookie season in 2019 full of confidence after a superb run. The teenager ends the year with three pole positions, two victories and seventh place in the championship standings. Given the number of race retirements he endured over the course of the season, to end in seventh place and so close to the rookie of the year title is a massive achievement.
It was announced just prior to Saturday’s qualifying session that both Colton and Harding Steinbrenner Racing would be uniting with Andretti Autosport for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series. Harding and Andretti have had a technical alliance for the last season, but 2020 will see the #88 car become an official fifth car for Andretti. With race-winning and championship-contending equipment now underneath him, lord only knows just what awaits Colton in his sophomore season.
Colton had a tentative idea after his win on Sunday, however: “Hopefully a championship.” After his performances this year, who is to say that this isn’t possible?