IndyCar: O’Ward, Herta enjoying IndyCar education at Sonoma

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Historically, September is “back to school month” – most schools in the U.S. see students return between late August and early September.

And 19-year-old Patricio O’Ward and 18-year-old Colton Herta, both at ages where they would likely be in college in a traditional school year, are getting an education this weekend at Sonoma Raceway in this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma (Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

However, their education does not involve textbooks and No. 2 pencils. Theirs involves controlling a 700+ horsepower Verizon IndyCar Series machine around the 12-turn 2.52-mile road course as they make their IndyCar debuts with Harding Racing.

The significance of the task at hand, and all the facets of it, is not lost on either of them, as O’Ward explained following opening practice on Friday.

“(I’m) still getting into the mix of things, learning the ins and outs of what practices are here, and there’s a lot more cars than what I’m used to in Indy Lights. The track position is a little hard to get,” O’Ward explained in a press conference following the first practice.

Herta added that tire management is especially tricky to adapt to, particularly at Sonoma, but his enthusiasm for getting into an IndyCar far outweighs any nerves he has about the challenge of it.

Colton Herta expressed a boundless enthusiasm in discussing his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Photo: IndyCar

“I’ve waited 18 years for this. Right out of the womb I was waiting to get into an IndyCar,” Herta quipped. “But yeah, just like Pato said, it’s a challenging track. It’s challenging circumstances. It’s hard to get the tires to work here, especially when you only have one lap. It’s tough to get on top of that.”

There is also another parallel between their IndyCar debuts and the traditional education system. Typically students in the same academic year progress from grade to grade at the same rate, and may even continue to have the same classes and/or teachers together.

Similarly, O’Ward and Herta, teammates in Indy Lights under the Andretti Autosport umbrella (Herta competed with Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing) are “graduating” to IndyCar at the same time. What’s more, they find themselves as teammates again as they make their debuts with Harding Racing – O’Ward pilots the No. 8 Chevrolet this weekend, with Herta in the No. 88.

And while they certainly have a rivalry, there doesn’t appear to be any animosity behind it.

“I think it’s really cool. I don’t know about (Colton), but I didn’t really feel any tension during this year. I thought it was really fun,” O’Ward said of their Indy Lights championship battle, which saw O’Ward emerge as the Indy Lights champion.

O’Ward added that he enjoys having a teammate who can push him, as he feels it’s vital in his own growth as a driver.

“I think it’s cool that we’re both pushing each other. We’re both trying to get better, and I’d much rather have a strong teammate than to have someone that I won’t really get information out of,” he explained. “I think it’s always good to have someone that pushes you and pushes you to your limits so you can get better and better, and I feel like he’ll feel the same way.”

Indeed, Herta echoed those sentiments.

“It was awesome to have (O’Ward) as a teammate. We obviously pushed each other really hard. He made me a better driver, as well as I think I made him a better driver,” Herta revealed.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest hurdle each may face is the jump in machinery. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engines in the back of the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 chassis makes roughly 450 horsepower. The 700+ horsepower in the Dallara DW-12 IndyCar comes close to doubling that, and it certainly got their attention.

Herta explained, “The first time I went out, they only gave me half throttle, so I didn’t even get that feeling. It was like, ‘What’s going on? It’s slow. It’s like Pro Mazda car speed.’ But on the second run, yes, it was pretty incredible coming out of the box and it really pushes your head to the back of the head rest, and yeah, the throttle application is pretty crazy.”

O’Ward added that the consistency and smoothness of the engine stood out to him, and actually caught him by surprise.

Patricio O’Ward had a strong Friday at Sonoma Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s really smooth. I was surprised how smooth it was, but it was — it’s hard to explain, but you just go through the gears so fast, and the thing just goes. It was pretty cool.”

Both drivers have been solid, albeit to varying degrees, to start their debut weekends. Friday practice saw Herta end up 16th and 20th in first and second practice. Though unspectacular on paper, Herta completed each session without incident as he continued the learning process.

O’Ward, however, starred in second practice, ending up third on the speed charts for the session.

Their weekend continues Saturday, with Practice 3 at 2:00 p.m. ET (11:00 a.m. local time) and qualifying at 6:00 p.m. ET (3:00 p.m. local time).

Note: qualifying airs on NBCSN Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET.

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Christopher Bell wins third straight Chili Bowl

@cbnationals, Twitter
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Christopher Bell passed Kyle Larson on the final lap of the 55-lap A-Feature to win the 33rd Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. Bell is only the second driver in event history to win three consecutive Golden Drillers, joining Kevin Swindell who holds the record with four.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be able to win the Chili Bowl,” Bell said at ChiliBowl.com. “To do it three straight times is just unbelievable, but man, I don’t even care about three straight. What about that race? I don’t think I’ve ever really been a part of a last lap race like that, so I’m just glad that thing came out in the end.”

As the white flag waved on his eighth appearance in Saturday’s main event, it seemed Larson was finally going to walk away with his first Golden Driller. This was closest he’s been to the win.

Larson took the lead from Logan Seavey on Lap 21 after a five-lap hot pursuit. Bell moved into second for the first time on Lap 27 but a caution forced him back to third as the field realigned to the last completed lap.

On Lap 33, Bell passed Seavey again for second before another caution reset the field. On the next restart Bell road the rim diving to the hub in Turns 3 and 4. With Larson in sight, Bell started to think about where he was going to put his third trophy.

The final caution flag of the night waved with 20 to go to set up the Bell vs. Larson shootout fans had been waiting for since Larson retired early from the race last year. Larson pulled away on the highline in Turns 1 and 2. He switched to the low in 3 and 4.

With five laps to go Larson hit traffic. That gave Bell the opportunity to close the gap. With two to go Bell was on top of Larson and challenging for the lead. On the final lap Bell passed Larson in Turn 2 as they bumped tires. Glued together through the final pair of turns, they touched twice more before Bell pulled away on the final stretch.

The action wasn’t over, however. Bell wound up on his lid following the win. His donuts got a little out of control and he rolled his midget.

Justin Grant took third by passing Brady Bacon on Lap 36. Bacon followed for fourth with Zach Daum in tow to complete the top five.

Tyler Courtney was the hard charger of the night finishing sixth after starting in 22nd. Brad Sweet and CJ Leary finished seventh and eighth.

Seavey was able to hold onto third until late in the race but ultimately the pole sitter who led the first 20 laps faded to ninth.

Tanner Thorson rounded out the top ten.

Friday’s Main Event

1. Christopher Bell
2. Kyle Larson
3. Justin Grant
4. Brady Bacon
5. Zach Daum
6. Tyler Courtney
7. Brad Sweet
8. CJ Leary
9. Logan Seavey
10. Tanner Thorson
11. Danny Stratton
12. Jonathan Beason
13. Tucker Klaasmeyer
14. Colby Copeland
15. Rico Abreu
16. Michael Faccinto
17. Chad Boat
18. David Gravel
19. Cole Bodine
20. Robert Dalby
21. Jake Neuman
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
23. Shane Golobic
24. Sean McClelland