Colton Herta’s Corkscrew connection to ‘the craziest’ pass in auto racing

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MONTEREY, Calif. – Colton Herta is inextricably linked with one of the most famous passes in auto racing history, even though it happened nearly four years before he was born.

In 1996, Herta’s father, Bryan, was in the lead and just four corners from the first victory of his CART career. Alex Zanardi had other ideas – or really, an idea that no one ever had dreamed of before in navigating the track’s famously treacherous Corkscrew sector.

With a bonsai move that still stirs conversation decades later, Zanardi dove through the dirt to snatch the lead and victory from Herta (at the 1:00 mark of the video below).

WATCH: IndyCar qualifying 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN, race 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC

In a neat twist, Herta’s 19-year-old son recently watched a replay of the move with Zanardi, who was his teammate at the Rolex 24 at Daytona this year.

“Obviously, I think it was a ballsy pass,” Colton Herta told NBCSports.com.

And it likely will stand the test of time as a unique moment at a historic racetrack that might never happen again.

In the Sept. 8, 1996 race, the Corkscrew – which is a blind left then right turn with a six-story elevation drop – has undergone alterations over the past two decades. With a different profile, the Corkscrew probably would be much less conducive to a Zanardi-esque pass with the current Dallara (likely incurring significant damage).

Even if it were possible, anyone attempting the move would be sanctioned. IndyCar officials have told drivers this weekend that any car putting four tires below the red and white curbing (as Zanardi did) will be penalized for short-cutting the course (resulting in a nullified lap in practice and qualifying; a time penalty would happen in the race).

Unlike the race 23 years ago (and even more so than the most recent Champ Car race here in 2006), IndyCar now uses a high-tech, high-definition system to monitor on-track infractions (unlike the VHS-type footage that would have been used to review Zanardi’s move, which drew mostly gasps from the paddock for its boldness and hardly any cries of foul).

“It wouldn’t happen today because they wouldn’t allow it,” Colton Herta said. “Back then, I think there was a rule, but it wasn’t enforced because it was such a crazy pass, and obviously last lap, four corners to go, it’s pretty crazy he pulled it off, especially how far back he was, and he didn’t clip the wall on the outside.

“It’s very spectacular and very monumental and should be because it’s one of the craziest passes, if not the craziest in all of motorsport.”

Bryan Herta would find redemption at Laguna Seca, winning the 1998 and ’99 races at the 11-turn, 2.28-mile road course where he started from the front row for five consecutive years from 1995-99.

Colton Herta seemed to have discovered the same magic in a daylong test Thursday for Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series season finale, pacing the 24 drivers with the fastest lap of 1 minute, 10.07 seconds for Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

He was a half-second faster than road-course ace Will Power, who was sufficiently impressed to proclaim about Herta that “this bloke fast in the fast corners. That’s where his time is. He’s definitely brave. He’s keeping it on the track.”

That changed in Friday morning’s practice when the No. 88 Honda driver went off three times – the last was a spin in the Corkscrew gravel that ended the session.

“I guess pushing a little bit too hard was the main problem,” Colton Herta said. “Obviously the grip level always changes and you have to drive to that grip level.”

Herta does have the benefit of experience at Laguna Seca, where his first race car victory in Skip Barber in 2012 and also won in a touring car series in 2017, though “none of that translates to the (IndyCar) because it’s so big and fast.”

Of course, he does have some tips from his father (“He did give me a few that I can’t tell you,” Colton joked. “Maybe after the weekend”) as well as those chromosomes.

“Hopefully the genes passed on, and I carry on the Herta name and can be competitive here,” Colton said.

Latest INDYCAR Aeroscreen test continues to provide feedback; data to series

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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RICHMOND, Virginia – After completing its third Aeroscreen test since October 2, INDYCAR continues to collect valuable data and feedback from the drivers and engineers involved in testing.

The latest test of the Aeroscreen came Tuesday, October 15 at Richmond Raceway, a .750-mile short oval. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has been involved in testing dating all the way back to 2017 at Phoenix with the original “Windscreen.” Tuesday’s test was the first-time two-time NTT IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was able to test the device that partially encloses the cockpit proving greatly enhanced driver safety.

It was also the first time the current “Aeroscreen” designed and created by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, Pankl and Dallara has been tested at a short oval – a track that measures under 1.5-miles in length.

The previous tests were at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 2 and the Barber Motorsports Park road course on October 7.

“It wasn’t a problem getting in the car today and relearning a new viewpoint,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com at the conclusion of Tuesday’s test. “It felt like a new viewpoint. It’s still an Indy car. It still feels like an Indy car. The car does a lot of the things it did before. It required some slight tuning differences to accommodate a different center of gravity and different total weight.

“Overall, it still felt like the same Indy car I drove three weeks ago. You get used to that new viewpoint within 30 or 40 laps. It was alien at first but halfway through the day it feels like home again.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske test team along with INDYCAR officials worked on changes to getting air into the cockpit and directing the air to the right place where the driver can utilize it.

“We’ve come up with some solutions that we like,” Newgarden said. “INDYCAR and the teams will continue to fine-tune this. That is why we are doing these tests. The main goal was to figure this out and fine-tune this stuff. We have come up with a lot of good solutions to all of the little things we have talked about that we have needed so when Sebastien Bourdais goes to Sebring (on November 5), it will just be another version.

“We are already close. Because they are such small details, it feels like normal racing stuff and we will come up with solutions for that.”

Some drivers who have participated in the Aeroscreen test has said, they almost feel naked without having the halo-like structure with a clear windshield protecting them on the race car.

“Once we got through a whole IndyCar season, if you took it off, it would feel really strange,” Newgarden said. “People adapt so quickly to a change, what the car looks like. Once you give us a couple of races and a full year, it will feel like home and something we are very used to as drivers.

“It is already starting to get that way. People are feeling more comfortable with it. The field of view is almost identical to the way it was before. Your peripheral vision is identical, the way you look out the front of the cars is identical, the way you see the tires is identical.”

Individual driver preference will allow for shading of the sun and that can be accomplished with the visor strips on the helmet and the tear-offs on Aeroscreen.

Drivers will also have a bit of a quieter atmosphere inside the cockpit. The partial enclosure makes it easier to hear his radio communication and the sounds of the engine in the driver’s car. It partially blocks out the sounds of the engines in the other cars and the rush of wind traveling at high speeds that used to buffet in and around the helmet.

“It has changed the noise level slightly inside the cockpit,” Newgarden said. “For me, it wasn’t super dramatic. It’s a slight reduction in wind noise. You’re not getting the wind directly over your head as dramatically as you would before. All that external noise has just been dimmed.

“You can hear the radio a touch better, things like that. But the engine noise is still quite prominent. It’s bolted directly behind us, so you still hear quite a bit of what’s going on in the car and the engine.”

Dixon was in the car at Indianapolis on October 2 and returned on Tuesday. The Barber test on October 7 included this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud, in a Team Penske Chevrolet and Ryan Hunter-Reay in an Andretti Autosport Honda.

“The only differences are the openings on the front wing that creates some more airflow around the legs and body and a different inlet in the screen that was in place today,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “There were helmet cooling options since the Barber test because on the road course, some of the drivers were getting a little hotter.

“This project has been very in-depth. It hit the ground running very smoothly. There are some alternate options they are trying to create, especially on the street courses where we will experience hot condition. On street conditions, your depth perception changes because of how close you are to the walls, but we should get used to that.”

Two weeks ago, Team Penske driver Will Power said it takes a different style to get out of the race car because of the added height of the Aeroscreen.

That hasn’t been a problem for Dixon.

“That’s easy, man,” he said. “Just go through the hole in the top.”