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Bryan Herta’s son, Colton, ready to follow in dad’s footsteps and tire tracks in Indy Lights

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There’s following in a father’s footsteps, but Colton Herta is taking things one step father, so to speak, also following in the tire tracks of father and former racer turned team co-owner Bryan Herta.

The younger Herta is preparing to follow another path his father blazed, that of racing in the Indianapolis 500. The elder Herta is also a two-time Indy 500 winning car owner, including the car 2016 500 winner Alexander Rossi drove.

To follow his father’s path, Colton – who turns 17 on March 20 – is preparing for this year’s 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season.

Colton has a lot to live up to. His father was the 1993 Indy Lights champion. Colton also has prior MRTI experience in 2014, but was unable to compete in the Cooper Tires USF2000 championship due to age requirements – even though he still earned six top-10 finishes in his rookie year.

After two years of living by himself – and racing – in Europe, the younger Herta is back in the U.S. for 2017. He will compete in the Indy Lights Series for a new team that is a joint effort between his father’s Andretti Autosport organization and George Michael Steinbrenner IV, grandson of late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

“My dad raced against his stepdad in Barber Saab, so George Michael came to one of my Skip Barber races at Lime Rock Park,” Colton Herta said, in an interview with the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires. “We really clicked and he came to all my USF2000 races in 2014.

“He was working with my dad on the Andretti Autosport Global Rallycross team and gaining experience, and decided he wanted to do this full time. Michael Andretti was on board, so it all came together pretty fast.

“I hope we’ll see some of the Yankees players at the St. Pete race – their spring training facility is in Tampa and they’re in town Saturday and Sunday. And maybe Watkins Glen.”

Moving to Europe by himself was a big challenge, but Colton quickly developed not only a good support system overseas, he also raced for the noted Carlin team.

“I’d always wanted to race in Europe, so when I got the chance with Carlin, I took it,” he said. “It was a big eye-opener. I moved over there when I was 14 and lived on my own for two years. It was a big step but it really did mature me – sort of like going to college, if you went to college when you were 14 years old!

“Carlin is a really powerful team and they’re very good at what they do. Trevor Carlin and the whole team made the transition really easy for me. The engineers are particularly good at adapting drivers and I got into a ton of different cars – FIA F3, Formula F3, British F3, F4. It will be interesting racing against them this year!”

While his father remains at the center of Colton’s career as both an inspiration and supporter (and now co-team owner), Colton almost seemed destined to be a race car driver from almost after he was born.

“I did the normal kid sports like baseball and soccer, but everything always came back to racing,” he said. “That’s always been the main focus! I remember being in the motorhome and going to almost every race when my dad was driving for Andretti.

“I suppose I wanted to race because my dad did, and I was around it my whole life which amplified that. I started racing dirt bikes before I was 4 years old then raced karts from age 5 to 12. I’m not sure when it really got serious: it started with club racing, then some national championships then international racing. It just clicked. I really enjoyed working with the mechanics and working on the kart. I loved to see the progress.”

Being part of the Mazda Road to Indy will not only offer Colton additional experience in further developing his racing career, there is also one other key benefit: Indy Lights races at most of the same tracks and on the same weekends as the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“You can talk to so many of the IndyCar drivers, the guys who have been racing on those tracks for 20 years,” he said. “You have them as a resource.”

Being back on American racing soil for the first time in two seasons, the younger Herta is keeping expectations low for a start. But he definitely has higher expectations as he gets more comfortable as the season progresses.

“I don’t really have too many expectations,” Herta said. “I just want to see how it goes. We have a good car so I know we’ll be quick in preseason testing. It’s just a matter of putting it all together and not making too many rookie mistakes.”

As for how long he plans to compete in the Indy Lights Series, Colton has a very clear plan for both then and beyond.

“I think two years in the series is reasonable,” he said. “Hopefully I can do well, win a championship and move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

Colton is also like his father in another way, both having a unique sense of humor. For example, when asked if he has a “hidden talent,” Colton reflects to one of the things while he raced in Europe.

“I am a good cook, since I’ve had two and a half years of experience cooking for myself! I can make a mean steak, but chicken teriyaki is my best dish.”

And when asked if he wasn’t driving a race car, Colton was very matter of fact of what he would be:

“Broke! I don’t know what else I could do. My talent pool is a little shallow, so it’s race car driver or bust.”

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IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.