Young Herta’s Indy 500 performance leaves veterans amazed

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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INDIANAPOLIS – There are two types of conditions race drivers fear when it comes to qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 – a hot surface and wind.

Colton Herta, 19, had no fear of either when he made the first of his two qualification attempts in Saturday’s Indianapolis 500 time trials.

The hotter the track, the harder it is for the race car to maintain grip. The windier the conditions, the more difficult it is to keep control of the car.

At 2:14 p.m. ET on Saturday, the temperatures were in the high 80s with gusty winds.

No problem for Herta, as he went out and ran a four-lap average of 229.033 mph to put him firmly in the “Fast Nine Shootout,” scheduled to run today for the Indy 500 pole, weather permitting.

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Other cars and drivers, though, would move into the “Fast Nine”, and Herta knew he had more speed in his No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda. He was down to eighth place in the “Fast Nine”, and there were other drivers waiting for the final hour, when track conditions are better suited for grip and speed.

Herta didn’t want to wait and returned for a second attempt beginning at 4:44 p.m., when it was still quite hot.

The kid ran even faster, with a four-lap average at 229.478 mph and moved from eighth to fifth in the “Fast Nine.”

One of the first to congratulate Herta was his father, Bryan. As a team owner, he has won the Indianapolis 500 twice, including the late Dan Wheldon’s win in the 100th anniversary race in 2011 and the 100th Running with Alexander Rossi in 2016.

Herta is in charge of Marco Andretti’s car at Andretti Autosport.

As a driver, Bryan Herta competed in five Indy 500s with a best finish of third in 2005.

“He has respect for this place,” Bryan Herta told NBCSports.com on pit lane after his son’s run. “Maybe he doesn’t fear it, but he respects it, and that is all that you need.

“I’m off the charts when it comes to pride. I’ve been here on a hot, windy day, fully trimmed out. I know how hard it is to put four laps together. And he did it twice under the most harrowing conditions that we’ve had in qualifying here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I’m very, very proud of him. When I talk to him, he doesn’t seem like a rookie. At no point did I ever feel he was over his head with this. You can win this race from anywhere, but he’s doing all the right things. He has a great shot.”

Some may call it a case of “He doesn’t know, what he doesn’t know.” But young Herta has unbelievable talent and poise for a driver who just turned 19.

“Middle of the second row isn’t bad if it rains Sunday,” Colton Herta told NBCSports.com. “It was tough on both runs because of the conditions. The last run we made; the car was more trimmed. But the first one, the car was glued down to the track despite the fact the track was hotter. It counteracted how hot the track was. It wasn’t terrible, actually.”

Young Herta believes his Harding Steinbrenner team has prepared a good race setup for next Sunday’s 103rd Running. Starting in the middle of Row 2 is a great starting position.

“It’s possible to win from anywhere; but it definitely helps when you start up front,” Herta said. “I knew we could probably make the Fast Nine if we did it perfect. I didn’t think we were going to be fifth. I thought maybe seventh, eighth, ninth was more realistic. It kind of blew my mind.

“We trimmed it on that last run and just kind of went for it, and yeah, the car was even a little better than it was on my first run.”

Troy Ruttman is the youngest Indy 500 winner in history; he won the 1952 race at age 22. Herta believes he has a great chance to break that record.

With his win in the IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas on March 24, he was just a week short of his 19th birthday.

“I have a few chances to get the record (for youngest Indy 500 winner),” Herta said. “I’ll be trying this year, for sure.

“If we don’t, we’ll have three more chances after that.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.