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.”