Fast action by Andretti truck drivers saved Colton Herta’s car from fire

Bruce Martin Photo

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Jason Bolles and Nick Bentz were within 9 miles of their final destination when something went badly wrong.

The two Andretti Autosport truck drivers had shared the drive from the team’s race shop on the northwest side of Indianapolis to the Florida Gulf Coast.

After driving all day and all night, the team was on the homestretch of delivering Colton Herta’s No. 88 Honda and all of its pit equipment to the IndyCar paddock area on the streets of St. Petersburg — the site of Sunday’s IndyCar season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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It was shortly after 2 a.m. ET when they were crossing the long I-275 bridge with Tampa to the east and St. Petersburg to the west.

That is when trouble struck in transit to the race.

“We noticed it at the same time and started looking out of our mirrors,” Bentz told “Jason said he saw sparks. I looked out the passenger side and saw smoke, so we pulled over.

“If we had been on the bridge, the fire department would have had to take a loop that would have taken 15 extra minutes to get around. That would have been the difference to have a car or not.”

Bolles, who has been driving big rigs for 28 years, was the driver at the time and recalled the moment that quickly turned an uneventful drive into time to spring into action.

Jason Bolles (left), Nick Bentz (right) — Bruce Martin Photo

“We were coming across the bridge and it sounded like a tire blew,” Bolles told “I looked in my mirror and slowed down. We tried to get over after the bridge because there was no room on the bridge.  I looked in the mirror, and more sparks were coming. The truck in front of, the 28 truck, stopped with us. They saw it was fire. We got out the extinguishers and tried to put it as best we could.”

When the flames erupted, they unhooked the tractor and called the fire department.

“I’ve had things like this happen over the years, things you have to think about,” Bolles recalled. “It wasn’t panic at first until the flames really got bigger. We had to decide to try to put the fire out or save something. So, we unhooked the truck.

“We got the fire to die down some at a couple of points, then it flamed up again.

“It took 10 minutes for the fire department to arrive. That was 10 long minutes.”

Paul “Ziggy” Harcus is IndyCar team manager at Andretti Autosport. He was asleep at his home in Indianapolis when the phone rang. It was at such a ridiculously early hour of the day that Harcus rolled over and went back to sleep.

“My phone was going off at 2:50 this morning,” Harcus told “I slept through that. I woke up this morning at 6 a.m. and saw the message, and I thought, ‘Oh my.’

“It’s not a good way to start the season, especially when I thought the boys had done such a good job of getting everything ready.”

Just 9 miles separated Herta’s transporter and the end of its long journey from Indianapolis to St. Petersburg.

Just as a race driver can be leading a race, only to crash or have a mechanical failure on the final lap, that’s what happened to Herta’s transporter.

“You look at it as being just 9 miles away, but if it was going to happen, it would have happened somewhere else,” Harcus said. “If it had happened on that bridge 5 miles before that, we would have lost the whole truck, the race car and everything. We were blessed the fire trucks could get there as close as they did and as quick as they did. We got out of it better than it could have been.”

“The boys had stopped and got the cars washed. They were coming down and saw in the mirror, pulled over and jumped into action. They did a hell of a job to get up there, call the fire department, get the tractor disconnected and get all of the stuff out. Good job by the boys.”

The cause of the fire was a wheel bearing that locked up, according to Harcus. According to another team’s truck driver, there are two types of wheel bearings used on the haulers that transport freight across the country. One is called an “oil-soaked” bearing, which pumps oil through the bearings to provide lubrication. The other is a “greased bearing” that used packed grease to lubricate the bearing.

When a transporter carrying the Indy cars for Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe caught fire and burned to the ground on Interstate 80 west of Cheyenne, Wyoming, on its way to Sonoma Raceway on Aug. 16, 2008, that transporter had “oil-soaked” bearings.

The fire was so bad because it was in such a desolate area, that the nearest fire department was more than 100 miles away. The transporter in that fire was completely burned, along with most of the equipment inside.

After that incident, Team Penske changed its wheel bearings to “greased” on its fleet of transporters.

Team Penske was able to salvage the two race cars from that fire. Andretti Autosport was able to do the same with Herta’s No. 88 Honda.

The transporter that caught fire was one that was acquired from the old Harding Steinbrenner Racing team after it merged with Andretti Autosport at the end of last season.

With the pit equipment damaged by the fire, Andretti Autosport is transporting the timing stand for James Hinchcliffe’s No. 6 Honda that will compete in three races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500, this season.

Paul “Ziggy” Harcus (right) speaks with IndyCar’s Bill Van De Sant — Bruce Martin Photo

“We have another truck on the way now with Hinch’s No. 29 car timing stand,” Harcus said. “The rest of the stuff is workable. We’ve got the car apart now. We’ll have to rewrap it for this weekend. The guys have the car apart and will look at it and start it up tonight to make sure everything is OK there. It got a hell of a lot of smoke damage from the fire. Everything seems to look OK; it’s just smoke damage.

“The timing stand is critical for what we do, and it burned the top of that. We think the electronics on the bottom may be salvageable. We thought it would be better to bring another one down and make sure we were ready, then be behind the eight-ball. The lockers that have the crew uniforms got burned, but it could have been worse.

“Saving the car was make or break for us. To start off with a car that just has smoke damage. There was quite a bit of water sprayed on it. There is nothing burned. It’s all smoke damage and something we can handle.

“We still have a car that I believe can win the race.”

A few feet away from Harcus, crewmembers were working on Herta’s Honda. They were cleaning it up from smoke damage and checking for potential water damage.

“I don’t think it is as bad as it could have been,” Nick Allen, the chief mechanic for Herta, told “It’s more smoke damage than anything. When the firefighters were there, they completely coated the upstairs in water because that is what they needed to do. We have a little bit of water damage and smoke damage, but it could have been a lot worse.

“Almost everything can be cleaned.”

Wednesday morning, Herta called Allen to try to see what he could do. According to Allen, everyone was in problem-solving mode.

“I don’t think anybody has had time to process this,” Allen said. “It’s just react.

“We’ll be here until 11 p.m. or midnight. We’ll have setup day on Thursday and can finish everything up.”

Allen found out about the incident at 5:30 a.m. Andretti Autosport sent additional crew members from Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 team along with a data acquisition engineer, to survey the damage. That group boarded an Allegiant Airlines flight Wednesday morning.

“They came straight down to make sure we still have a game plan and get the message back to the boys in the shop,” Harcus said. “I still think we can win the race. I have to make sure we get ahead of it tomorrow so when we start the weekend, we’re not behind the eight ball.

“We have the sixth car (Hinchcliffe’s No. 29) that we want to work on right now. It’s on its way down here if we need it. The good part of a big team is we have a lot of equipment and a lot of people.

“Whenever it turns to hell, everybody jumps in. It’s a good advantage.”

As a group of Andretti Autosport crewmembers were working on Herta’s car, a member of a smaller IndyCar team came over to check out the situation and offer any help that he could.

He also had a stark revelation.

“We would have been screwed if that had happened to us,” he said

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta: How to watch, start times, schedule, entry list

AUTO: NOV 13 IMSA - Motul Petit Le Mans
David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Start times, TV schedule: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will conclude the 2022 season this weekend with the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta, which also will mark the end of the line for the DPi class.

The premier Daytona Prototype international category, which started in 2017, will be replaced by the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with its LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to Le Mans.

For the third time in four years, an Acura will be crowned the champion in DPi as the No. 10 of Wayne Taylor Racing holds a 19-point edge over the No. 60 of Meyer Shank Racing.

Last year, WTR’s No. 10 entered the season finale with a 19-point lead but lost the title to the No. 31 Cadillac of Action Express.

Full-time WTR drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor (who will be joined by Brendon Hartley in the No. 10 this weekend) have a series-leading four victories this season. The MSR duo of Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves this weekend) won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and have five runner-up finishes this year.

Championship scenarios in the other four categories:

GTD Pro: Points leaders Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet will clinch the title by starting in their No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

–GTD: There are 140 points separating the top four teams with Roman De Angelis and the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 leading by 45 points.

–LMP2: John Farano is first in the driver standings by 33 points over Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel. In the team standings, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports leads by 19 points over the No. 8 Tower Motorsport (Farano’s team).

–LMP3: No. 54 CORE autosport drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun lead by 83 points over the No. 74 Riley Motorsports of Gar Robinson.

With the 10-hour race requiring an extra driver, several stars from other racing series have been added. In addition to Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay will serve as third drivers in Chip Ganassi Racing’s pair of Cadillacs.

Jimmie Johnson also will be making his last DPi start in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac with Mike Rockenfeller and Kamui Kobayashi. Petit Le Mans could mark the last start in an IMSA prototype for Johnson, who has said limited inventory likely will keep him out of the GTP category in the Rolex 24 next year.

Here are the start times, starting lineup, schedule and TV info for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (all times are ET):

Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta start times, schedule, TV info

When: Saturday, 12:10 p.m. ET

Race distance: Ten hours on the 12-turn, 2.54-mile road course

TV: Noon-3 p.m., NBC; 3-10:30 p.m., USA Network. Peacock, the NBC Sports App,and will have streaming coverage of the event from flag to flag beginning at noon. Leigh Diffey and Dave Burns are the play by play announcers with analysts Calvin Fish, Townsend Bell, James Hinchcliffe and Brian Till. The pit reporters are Kevin Lee, Hannah Newhouse, Dillon Welch and Matt Yocum. live TV qualifying stream: Friday, 3:35 p.m. ET.

IMSA Radio: All sessions are live on and; SiriusXM live race coverage will begin Saturday at noon (XM 207, Internet/App 992).

Forecast: According to, it’s expected to be 63 degrees with an 85% chance of rain at the green flag.

Entry list: Click here to see the 48-car field for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta

Daily schedule IMSA Petit Le Mans

Here’s a rundown of the Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia:

Wednesday, Sept. 28

9:30 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

10:25 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup

12:30 p.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

1:15 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 practcice

2 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup practice

3:30 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

Thursday, Sept. 29

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

9 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup qualifying

9:50 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

11:40 a.m.: Prototype Challenge qualifying

12:10 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

1:50 p.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 1

2:55 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

5 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 1

6 p.m.: Michelin Challenge qualifying

7:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

Friday, Sept. 30

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge race

9:50 a.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 2

10:55 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 2

1:10 p.m.: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race

3:40 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying

Saturday, Oct. 1

9:15 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

12:10 p.m.: Petit Le Mans