AUSTIN, TX – Think back to when you were 18 years old. Maybe you didn’t have some pleasant memories of that time frame. I mean, after all, you were likely still maturing and probably near your senior year of high school or even as a freshman in college.
Well, could you imagine competing in the world’s most competitive form of racing and competing for a win?
That’s a feat that Colton Herta just accomplished.
Herta, 18, finished ahead of the 2017 season champion, the 2013 series champion and many others en route to his first career win in his No. 88 Honda in Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at the Circuit of the Americas.
He drove well beyond his years in showing that the second generation driver is here to stay.
The win makes him the youngest race winner in IndyCar history at 18 years, 11 months. He bests Graham Rahal who was 19 years, 3 months, 2 days when he won in St. Pete in 2008. Marco Andretti is third now at 19 years, 5 months, 14 days when he won in Sonoma in 2008.
A lot of people gave Herta grief this offseason that maybe he didn’t belong in his seat with Harding Steinbrenner Racing. See, the Pato O’Ward was supposed to be Herta’s teammate with HSR in 2019 but HSR ended up with not enough money to fund two cars on a full time basis. So, O’Ward was left searching for a new ride and more opportunities while Herta remained in the full time seat.
The misinformed fans thought that because O’Ward outpaced Herta in Sonoma last year in both of their Indy Car debuts that he was more deserving. After all, O’Ward won the Indy Lights championship over Herta right?
What if I told you that Herta’s car was pieced together by the full time team by Harding in Sonoma while O’Ward’s was essentially a fifth Andretti car. O’Ward’s equipment was far superior than what Herta was driving. Yes, they were driving for the same “team” but that’s the only similarity between the two.
Plus, if Herta doesn’t break his wrist in Toronto, he likely is the season champion instead. So, don’t try to compare the two as one being better than the other. They’re both deserving. Sunday showed that.
Herta, was strong in the season opener in St. Pete in that he initially qualified in the Fast Six. Unfortunately, he was caught impeding Charlie Kimball on Kimball’s run which cost Herta his fastest two laps. He’d start in Row 6 instead. He’d still drive up to an eighth place run in the season opener.
This weekend, he was strong throughout. He was P2 in practice on Friday morning before his engine blew. He qualified in the Fast Six in fourth and on the opening lap moved up to third. He’d remain in the top three the rest of the way and settled for a podium in just his third career series start.
Oh yeah, he’s 18 years old. Did I mention that?
Herta, is second in the championship standings heading to Barber only trailing second place finisher Josef Newgarden by 18 points.
Newgarden, starts 2019 off with two straight top two finishes as he won the season opener in St. Pete. Sunday was his 14th podium since joining Team Penske in 2017.
Ryan Hunter-Reay earned his third podium in his last four starts with a third place finish in his No. 28 Honda on Sunday. Graham Rahal charged from 10th to finish fourth in his No. 15 Honda while Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top five.
Here are the main takeaways.
Lap 43 Caution Changed Entire Complexity Of The Race
The closed pit rule strikes again. Will Power was well in control to cruise to a $100k bonus on Sunday afternoon but an ill advised caution on Lap 46 cost him that opportunity
See, Power lost this race by something not of his doing. When James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist touched wheels in Turn 19 with 14 laps remaining in the second race of the NTT IndyCar Series season, it shot Rosenqvist spinning into the Turn 19 wall as a result. That would bring out the first and only caution of the IndyCar Classic at the Circuit of the Americas and in turn, it was the one that changed the entire complexity of this 60 Lap race.
Unfortunately for Power and two others, they had yet to pit at that point. Colton Herta, Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay and everyone else had just hit pit lane prior. But, Power, Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon didn’t get down pit lane yet for their third and final time and that in turn cost them podium positions and potentially could have season ending implications.
Power, had led all but one lap prior to that crash and if he won the race from the pole, COTA was giving him a $100k bonus for the weekend sweep. He held a comfortable advantage over Rossi in that if the caution flies after his pit stop, then those two would have duked it out for the win.
Rightfully so too. They had the best two cars out there all weekend. Power, was fastest on the day on Friday, won his 56th career pole on Saturday and dominated on Sunday.
Rossi, was third, third and first respectively in practice this weekend and qualified second. These were the top best cars and they earned those positions.
Even Dixon came from 13th after the first pit sequence to third but all three were hurt by that yellow.
Due to the closed pit rule, once the caution flag waves, the pits will close. You can’t hit pit lane after. So, despite Rosenqvist not being in harm to them, they couldn’t pit and would have to do so under caution.
Track position gone.
Rossi and Dixon would come out 14th and 15th respectively and finish ninth and 13th respectively. It was Dixon’s worst finish since the 2017 Indy 500.
Will Power’s Bad 2018 Luck Carries Over To 2019
Power, well his day went from bad to worse. While pitting, his drive shaft went out forcing his No. 12 Chevrolet to stall. They’d never get it back in gear as he was credited with a 24th place finish.
This is exactly what he didn’t need. Power, says that the rule needs changed and that his bad luck from 2018 is back again in 2019.
Last year, Power had six DNF’s. Those are the reasons to why he wasn’t a main challenger for the title. See, each had their own version of bad luck.
In Phoenix, he was strong but tried to pass a lapped car and crashed. In Barber, he was running second when his car hydroplaned on standing water and went into the front stretch wall. In Road America, he started on the front row but he had a mechanical failure at the drop of the green flag. In Toronto, he was in a podium spot before being caught up in a wreck.
See where this is going? See how 2019 started now for Power?
Pitting Early On 1st Pit Sequence Was Way To Go
Yes, unless you started in the top two rows, pitting early was the way to go. See, the cars that pit first on the opening pit sequence, they leap frogged a bunch of cars. Josef Newgarden pit on Lap 9, 3-5 laps earlier than everyone else he was battling and he gained three spots by virtue of that. He went from seventh to solidly into the top five the rest of the way.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports saw Marcus Ericsson pit on Lap 6 and James Hinchcliffe one lap later on Lap 7. They went from outside of the top 10 to well inside of it. Unfortunately, the caution that flew on Lap 43 cycled them back to outside again.
But, those who pit early for fresh Firestone rubber saw the most benefit. With COTA being an abrasive surface, going to new tires quicker than anyone else was the way to go. Managing that the rest of the way was the easy part.
Chip Ganassi Racing Struggles
After the first pit sequence, Chip Ganassi Racing was in trouble. They may have shared Row 3 to start the day off with, but that whole first stint was a struggle for both drivers. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist slipped down to outside of the top five on the opening lap and his teammate Scott Dixon just tried to hold on. On Lap 15, the end of the first sequence, Rosenqvist was seventh and Dixon 13th.
By time for the next pit sequence, both were just happy to be in the top 10. Rosenqvist, was battling his car all day and ended up crashing in the end. He finished 23rd and fell to 10th in the points standings.
Dixon, charged up to 3rd by time of the final pit stops, but that caution cost him a finish he deserved as he came away 13th. That was his worst finish since the 2017 Indy 500.
The entire podium and top four finishing positions in general belonged to American drivers. In fact, out of the top six, only Sebastien Bourdais wasn’t an American.
It was a great race for American drivers.
Hunter-Reay A Legit Championship Contender
Last year, Hunter-Reay closed the season off with a second place run in Portland and a win in Sonoma. He carried that momentum over to having a fast car in the 2019 season opener in St. Pete too. Hunter-Reay, was second, first and first respectively in practice, but his engine blew just 20 laps into the race. The momentum could have been stopped.
Instead, this weekend in COTA, Hunter-Reay was fourth in all three practice sessions and qualified his car in third. He’d finish in third as well to give him three podium finishes in his last four IndyCar starts.
The speed is there to be a legitimate championship contender.
Yes, Power was the class of the field but Honda’s took five of the top six finishing positions and eight of the top 10. After what could have been a scary with engine reliability, they went the full distance on Sunday without any problems.
IndyCar Classic Results
88 Herta R
31 O’Ward R
7 Ericsson R
19 Ferrucci R
59 Chilton -1
26 Veach -1
10 Rosenqvist R -3
12 Power OUT