IndyCar: Colton Herta on growing up in victory lane: ‘Now I’ve earned it’

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An IndyCar victory lane celebration has been a lifelong experience for Colton Herta, who still has a vivid memory of celebrating his dad’s final win nearly 14 years ago.

The 5-year-old “starstruck” by all the cameras July 31, 2005 at Michigan International Speedway has become the teenager who was the center of attention March 24, 2019 at Circuit of the Americas after becoming the youngest winner in series history.

That’s quite a ride for the Harding Steinbrenner Racing rookie.

“It’s crazy,” Herta said on the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “It’s completely different now. Then I felt important just to be in victory lane. Now I’ve earned it. To be a part of a huge group effort like it was pretty special.”

The roles were somewhat reversed as Colton celebrated with his father, Bryan, a four-time winner in a CART/IndyCar career from 1994-2006. Continuing a tradition that began when Colton began his career winning go-karts in Southern California, they went out for “victory tacos” in Austin to commemorate the win.

Colton Herta estimated he probably attended 80% of his dad’s IndyCar races as a child. Many of the team members who worked on his father’s car are turning wrenches on his No. 88 Dallara-Honda in 2019, and he also receives help from Bryan Herta on career management and contracts and less so on the racing.

“I think the biggest thing is there is so much stuff on an IndyCar compared to a go-kart, so I ask him about what stuff does on an IndyCar,” Colton Herta said. “Just general chitchat.”

There will be a learning curve this season for the young Harding Steinbrenner team and its inexperienced driver.

Herta will be expecting a challenge this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park because of his unfamiliarity with the course (“Driving-wise, it’ll be a struggle without a lot of track time at a difficult, technical place.”), but he’s optimistic that the win “definitely gives the team morale.”

“It was a tough offseason,” he said. “We just got the car ready for winter testing (at COTA), just got it to St. Pete (for the opener). It boosted everyone’s confidence. I think if we can finish top 10 everywhere, that would be pretty damn solid for a rookie campaign.”

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, who also was a guest on the podcast, has been impressed by Herta’s speed and approach since he paced a few of the preseason test sessions.

“He’s pretty quiet, and he just puts his head down and gets on with it,” Hunter-Reay said of Herta on the podcast. “No BS. Straightforward. He’s there to get the job done. I’m not surprised he’s been up front. It seems he’s up front everywhere we test. It should be a good year for him.

“People would say he’s fast, but the team potentially could be a limiting factor because it’s a new group together, but they’re doing a great job and exceeding expectations. I would not be surprised if Colton is in the mix toward the last quarter of the season in the championship hunt.”

Also in the podcast, Hunter-Reay discusses his outlook for the 2019 season, the stiffer competition from Team Penske on street and road courses, and why the first lap at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is his most stressful moment of the season.

To hear the podcast, click the link above or listen via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Stitcher.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.