For the 2022 Race of Champions on 5/6 February, Team USA will be represented by a pair of NTT IndyCar Series drivers as Jimmie Johnson will be joined by Colton Herta. Herta will make his ROC début under rather unfortunate circumstances as he is a substitute for Travis Pastrana, who had to opt out due to injuries he suffered in a BASE jumping accident in Florida.
Pastrana was set for his ninth ROC, and 2022 would have been right up his alley as it will take place in Pite Havsbad, Sweden, on a snow/ice course. The Nitro Rallycross founder and inaugural champion was also set to debut his series’ new FC1-X at the event. However, a BASE jumping trip in Florida went wrong and resulted in hip fractures and a broken sacrum.
“I was so looking forward to go to ROC in Sweden and represent Team US with one of my favorite friends Jimmie Johnson,” said Pastrana. “I’m really sorry, but sure Jimmie and Colton will be absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to be back at Race Of Champions 2023. I will come back stronger and faster, and try to figure out where my limits are a little bit more.”
Ironically, the development is a reversal of the 2006 ROC in which Johnson was set to partner with Pastrana before hurting his wrist in a golf cart accident and had to call off the plans. Despite being on his own, Pastrana brought Team USA into the Nations Cup final. The duo finally teamed up in 2007, where they reached the quarter-final in what was Johnson’s most recent ROC.
At the 2005 event, Pastrana broke his leg while performing a motocross freestyle stunt. Nevertheless, he and Johnson’s NASCAR team-mate Jeff Gordon fought their way into the Nations Cup semi-final. Citing the effort in spite of the injury, ROC president Fredrik Johnsson commented, “We thought that if someone can still do it, it’s him, but unfortunately he is still in hospital and will not be able to race next week. We look forward to have Travis back at ROC 2023.”
Set for his fifth full-time IndyCar season, Herta has become one of the series’ brightest young stars. The youngest driver to win an IndyCar race (18 years when he won at Circuit of the Americas in 2019), his quick driving style has garnered him six career victories and even speculation about a future move to Formula One. While the latter is not currently in the works as his employer Andretti Autosport was unable to purchase Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN (though he has still expressed interest in racing there someday), he enters the 2022 season as an obvious championship contender. His 2021 saw him score three wins, including two to end the season, en route to a fifth-place points finish.
“Colton is one of the world’s fastest and most exciting young race drivers and it will be very interesting to see what he and Jimmie can do for Team USA,” added Johnsson. “In 2002, Jimmie and Jeff Gordon completely upset the field on the rally course in Gran Canaria including many of the best rally drivers in the world, to capture the first ROC Nations Cup win for the U.S. I know both Colton and Jimmie are super motivated to try to do it again for the USA.”
The Herta/Johnson lineup marks the fourth time that a team exclusively consists of IndyCar drivers. Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay represented Team USA in the 2018 and 2019 editions. In 2017, the Americans had three teams with one being an IndyCar-only roster in Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, while Team Colombia also went the IndyCar route with Juan Pablo Montoya and Gabby Chaves.
Indianapolis 500 champion Hélio Castroneves is also in the 2022 ROC grid for Team Brazil.