Herta aims for ‘youngest IndyCar winner’ record

INDYCAR Photo by James Black

AUSTIN, Texas – On Thursday night, 18-year-old Colton Herta and his father, Bryan, had dinner with Marco Andretti and his wife, Marta Krupa, at a local Mexican restaurant less than a half-mile from the main entrance to Circuit of the Americas.

Back in 2006, Andretti held the record as the youngest driver to win a major racing at the age of 19 years, 167 days. Graham Rahal lowered that record when he drove to victory in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg at age 19 years, 93 days.

Herta turns 19 on March 30 and has 98 more days to claim the record for ‘youngest IndyCar winner’ if he should score a victory in the next three months.

“Yes, I will be coming for that record,” Herta told NBC Sports.com on Friday.

But young Herta’s experience in Friday’s first practice session went up in flames when his Honda engine had an internal parts failure near the end of the first NTT IndyCar Series practice session at Circuit of the Americas.

Herta was the second fastest driver in the first practice session for Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic with a fast time of 1:48.7939 around the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course for a speed of 112.980 miles per hour. With 18 minutes left in the session, however, Herta’s Honda seized up and dumped oil on the track. The rookie driver for Harding Steinbrenner Racing was penalized five minutes for bringing out the red flag, but that didn’t matter as his team had to replace the engine.

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden was the fastest driver in the opening session with a lap at 1:48.6567 (112.837 mph). Newgarden won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10.

“The car was really good,” Herta told NBC Sports.com. “I think everybody in the paddock knew it was going to be really good from the preseason test in February. In these low-grip situations we were fast in testing. We knew when the track was low grip, we would be fast.

“Unfortunately, the engine let go. That hampered our practice but honestly, first session, people aren’t going to be running that much any way with one set of tires, so it wasn’t a huge loss.”

Herta said the engine started to “give up” going through Turns 5. By the time he got to Turn 8, the engine “seized and locked the rears and just spun out.”

It was the first time in Herta’s career that he had ever had a blown engine in a race car.

“I have no clue how long it takes to swap engines,” Herta laughed. “Like I said, it’s better that it happened now than later when we are trying to go for track time.”

Herta is the only driver at Harding Steinbrenner Racing, but that team has a technical alliance with Andretti Technologies. That means engineering information and data can be shared between Andretti’s four drivers including Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach, Marco Andretti and Herta.

“I think a lot of the Andretti cars moved over to our setup on the second day of preseason testing and then we found even more speed. The Andretti cars are moving to our setup, so we have a lot of data from this place. My team and car did some really good things setup wise.”

Herta started 11thand finished eighth in the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, but his rookie drive was overlooked when another rookie driver, 27-year-old Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden, finished fourth and led 31 laps in the race.

“It was overshadowed by Felix because he finished better than me, but we had pace to run in the top five at the end,” Herta said. “We were fast but made some mistakes. I slapped the wall in Turn 3 on a restart and that moved me back in positions all the way to 18th. But we made it back to eighth just on pure pace and good strategy.”

Herta’s co-team owner is 22-year-old George Michael Steinbrenner, IV – the grandson of former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and the son of Hank Steinbrenner, co-owner of the Yankees with his brother Hal.

“It’s always unfortunate to have a failure like that, but we know we have the pace here from the test and we showed we still have it from the first part of that session,” Steinbrenner said. “Looking forward now to later Friday afternoon and getting the car back on track and keep moving forward.

“Any type of failure is always disappointing. It didn’t happen in the race, we have a lot of work to do, but we’ll be ready.”

Steinbrenner believes his team and Herta match the challenges that come at COTA. It’s also a new venue for all drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series, so a team that is able to find the right setup the soonest can benefit the most. So far, that is Herta.

If he can find the winning setup over the next three months, Herta can become the youngest winner in IndyCar history.

“Colton has shown the pace so far, it’s a matter of putting it together,” Steinbrenner said. “It would be an interesting record to break.”

Tony Kanaan at peace with IndyCar career end: ‘I’ll always be an Indianapolis 500 winner’


INDIANAPOLIS – Few drivers in Indy 500 history have been as popular as Tony Kanaan.

Throughout his career at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that began with his first Indy 500 in 2002, the fans loved his aggressiveness on the track and his engaging personality with the fans.

The Brazilian always got the loudest cheers from the fans during driver introductions before the Indy 500.

Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 would be his last time to walk up the steps for driver introductions. Kanaan announced earlier this year that it would be his final race of his IndyCar career, but not the final race as a race driver.

He will continue to compete in stock cars in Brazil and in Tony Stewart’s summer series known as the “Superstar Racing Experience” – an IROC-type series that competes at legendary short tracks around the country beginning in June.

Kanaan was the extra driver at Arrow McLaren for this year’s Indy 500 joining NTT IndyCar Series regulars Pato O’Ward of Mexico, Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden, and Alexander Rossi of northern California.

He had a sporty ride, the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet that paid homage to McLaren’s first Indianapolis 500 victory by the late Mark Donohue for Team Penske in 1972.

Because Kanaan has meant so much to the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series, the 2013 Indy 500 winner was honored before the start of the race with a special video.

It featured Kanaan sitting in the Grandstand A seats writing a love letter to the fans of this great event. Kanaan narrated the video, reciting the words in the letter and it finished with the driver putting it in an envelope and leaving it at the Yard of Bricks.

Lauren Kanaan with daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Bruce Martin Photo).

Many in the huge crowd of 330,000 fans watched the video on the large screens around the speedway. On the starting grid, Kanaan’s wife, Lauren, who bears a striking resemblance to actress Kate Beckinsale, watched with their four children.

Kanaan’s wife is an Indiana girl who was a high school basketball star in Cambridge City, Indiana.

Kanaan proposed to Lauren in 2010, and after a three-year engagement, they were married in 2013 – the year he won his only Indianapolis 500.

She has been Kanaan’s rock, and this was a moment for the family to share.

After receiving an ovation and the accolades from the crowd, Kanaan walked to his car on the starting grid and exchanged hugs with people who were important in his career.

One of those was Takuma Sato’s engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing, Eric Cowdin.

Tony Kanaan shares a moment with former engineer Eric Cowdin (Bruce Martin Photo).

Kanaan and Cowdin shared a longtime relationship dating all the way back to the Andretti Green Racing days when Kanaan was a series champion in 2004. This combination stayed together when Kanaan moved to KV Racing in 2011, then Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-2018 followed by two years at AJ Foyt Racing.

Kanaan returned to run the four oval races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 in the No. 48 Honda that was shared with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

In 2022, Johnson ran the full IndyCar Series schedule, and Kanaan drove the No. 1 American Legion entry to a third-place finish in his only IndyCar race of the season.

Kanaan knew that 2023 would be his last Indy 500 and properly prepared himself mentally and emotionally for his long goodbye.

But one could sense the heartfelt love, gratitude, and most of all respect for this tenacious driver in the moments leading up to the start of the race.

Tony Kanaan gets emotional during an interview after the Indy 500 (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“The emotions are just there,” Kanaan said. “I cried 400 times. This guy came to hug me, and I made Rocket (IndyCar Technical Director Kevin Blanch) cry. I mean, that is something.

“Yeah, it was emotional.”

Kanaan started ninth and finished 18th in a race that was very clean for the first two thirds of the race before ending in disjointed fashion with three red flags to stop the race over the final 15 laps.

“Yellows breed yellows and when you are talking about the Indianapolis 500 and a field that is so tough to pass, that happens,” Kanaan said. “It’s the Indy 500. Come on. We’ve got to leave it out there.

“Every red flag, everybody goes, I’m going to pass everybody. It’s tough to pass. It’s the toughest field, the tightest field we ever had here. It was going to happen. We knew it was going to happen.

“I wouldn’t want it any different. We left it all out there. Everybody that was out left it out.”

At one point in the second half of the race, Kanaan passed Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin by driving through the grass on the backstretch.

“That was OK, right?” Kanaan said. “That is one thing I have not done in 22 years here. Even (team owner) Sam Schmidt came to me and said, ‘That was a good one.’

“That was a farewell move.”

On the final lap, it was Kanaan battling his boyhood friend from Brazil, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, for a mid-pack finish.

“Helio and I battling for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead,” Kanaan said. “It was like, who’s playing pranks with us.

“We both went side by side on the backstretch after the checker and we saluted with each other, and I just told him actually I dropped a tear because of that, and he said, ‘I did, too.’

“We went side by side like twice. A lot of memories came to my mind, and I even said how ironic it is that we started it together and I get to battle him on the last lap of my last race.

Tony Kanaan is embraced by his wife, Lauren, after finishing 16th in the 107th Indianapolis 500 ((Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“It’s pretty neat. It’s a pretty cool story. He’s a great friend. My reference, a guy that I love and hate a lot throughout my career, and like he just told me — I was coming up here and he just said, who am I going to look on the time sheet when I come into the pits now, because we always said that it didn’t matter if I was — if I was 22nd and he was 23rd, my day was okay. And vice versa.

“It was a good day for me, man. What can I say? We cried on the grid.

“Not the result that we wanted. I went really aggressive on the downforce to start the race. It was wrong. Then I added downforce towards the end of the race, and it was wrong. It was just one of those days.”

After the race was over, Kanaan drove his No. 66 Honda back to the Arrow McLaren pit area and climbed out of the car to cheers of the fans that could see him. Others were focused on Josef Newgarden’s wild celebration after the Team Penske driver had won his first Indianapolis 500.

There were no tears, though, only smiles from Kanaan who closes an IndyCar career with 389 starts, 17 wins including the 2013 Indianapolis 500, 79 podiums, 13 poles, and 4,077 laps led in a 26-year career.

Kanaan came, he raced, and he raced hard.

“That’s what we did, we raced as hard as we could,” Kanaan told NBC Sports.com. “It wasn’t enough.

“The win was the only thing that mattered. If we were second or 16th, we were going to celebrate regardless.

“In a way, being 16th will stop people wondering if I’m going to come back.

“I’m ready to go. I’m ready to enjoy the time with my family, with my team and doing other things as well.”

Kanaan’s face will forever be part of the Borg-Warner Trophy as the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“I won one and that is there, and it will always be there,” Kanaan said. “It was an awesome day.

“The way this crowd made me feel was unbelievable. I don’t regret a bit.”

Tony Kanaan hugs his son Max before the Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Kanaan actually announced the 2020 Indianapolis 500 would be TK’s last ride because he wanted to say goodbye to the fans.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit, the Indianapolis 500 was moved from Memorial Day Weekend to August 23 and because of COVID restrictions, fans were not allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500.

Three years later, Kanaan was finally able to say goodbye to this fans that were part of the largest crowd to see the Indianapolis 500 since the sold-out gathering for 350,000 that attended the 100th running in 2016.

“That’s it, that’s what I wanted, and I got what I wanted,” Kanaan said. “This moment was so special; I don’t want to ever spoil it again.

Tony Kanaan kisses his daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“We’ve been building and growing this series as much as we can. I’m really glad and proud that I was able to be part of building something big and this year’s race was one of the biggest ones.”

Kanaan walked off pit lane and rejoined his family. He will always be part of the glorious history of the Indianapolis 500 and fans will be talking about Tony Kanaan years from now, not by what he did, but the way he did it.

“This is what it is all about,” Kanaan said on pit lane. “Having kids, be a good person. Even if you don’t win, it’s fine if you don’t, as long as you make a difference.

“Hopefully, I made a difference in this sport.

“I will always be an IndyCar driver. I will always be an Indy 500 winner and I will always make people aware of IndyCar in the way it deserves.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

(Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network)