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.

Australia SuperCar Champion gets IndyCar Test at Team Penske

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Scott McLaughlin’s latest reward for winning the 2019 Virgin Australia SuperCar championship is an INDYCAR test at Team Penske.

“Scott has been incredibly successful for DJR Team Penske over the last three seasons and he has become a true champion of our sport,” said team owner Roger Penske, who will become the owner of INDYCAR, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 in early January. “He certainly embraces new challenges and we think this is a great opportunity to utilize the IndyCar Series rookie testing program so Scott can experience what it is like to get behind the wheel of one of our Indy cars.”

McLaughlin, who has scored back-to-back Virgin Australia Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP), will participate in an INDYCAR Rookie Evaluation test at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. on Monday, January 13.

“I am always open to new challenges and I’m thankful to Team Penske for providing this opportunity to test an Indy car,” said McLaughlin, who established a new Supercars single season record with 18 victories this past season. “We had an amazing year in 2019 and I’m looking forward to defending our Supercars championship next season. I’m also excited to grow as a driver and being with Team Penske creates cool opportunities to try something new. Although I have spent a few hours in a simulator earlier this year, it’s going to be a blast to see what one really feels like at a place like Sebring.”

McLaughlin joined DJR Team Penske in 2017 as one of the brightest stars in Supercars. He has produced 35 victories and 44 pole positions over the last three seasons while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019, the driver’s title each of the last two seasons and the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in October, along with co-driver Alex Premat.

McLaughlin will defend his Supercars title for DJRTP in 2020 in the No. 17 Shell V-Power Ford Mustang.  He will build on his already successful racing career by driving a full-sized open-wheel car for the first time.

Team Penske enjoyed another successful IndyCar Series season in 2019. The team earned its record 18th Indianapolis 500 victory as Simon Pagenaud captured the checkered flag in May, while Josef Newgarden won his second series title in three years and the team’s 16th INDYCAR Championship. Team Penske will once again compete with three full-season entries in 2020, featuring series champion drivers Newgarden, Pagenaud and Will Power.

Team Penske is one of the most successful teams in the history of professional sports. Cars owned and prepared by Team Penske have produced more than 540 major race wins, over 620 pole positions and 37 Championships across open-wheel, stock car and sports car racing competition. Over the course of its 53-year history, the team has also earned 18 Indianapolis 500 victories, two Daytona 500 Championships, a Formula 1 win, overall victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring along with a win in Australia’s legendary Bathurst 1000 race. Team Penske currently competes in the IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team also races in the Virgin Australia SuperCars Championship, in a partnership with Dick Johnson Racing, as DJR Team Penske.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500