IndyCar’s Colton Herta reflects on 2019 COTA win and sim racing career

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The fifth race of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge is Saturday’s AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas. Colton Herta made history in the real event when the then-18-year-old became the youngest winner in IndyCar Series history.

That March 24, 2019 victory was six days short of his 19th birthday.

If the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had not halted the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, it would have been the site of Sunday’s next race for IndyCar.

Instead, the virtual IndyCar iRacing Challenge will be at virtual COTA Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN with the IndyCar on NBC booth once again on the call.

Herta was a rookie sensation in IndyCar last year. The youngster was able to take advantage of Will Power’s late-race misfortune for his first career victory.

His second career victory in the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca was a better indication of his immense talent.

“At COTA, I was able to capitalize on other’s mistakes,” Herta told NBCSports.com. “At Laguna, I was in control.

“The biggest thing was saving fuel and saving tires. At Portland in the race before Monterey, I qualified on the pole and dropped back on the Firestone Red tires. Tire deg was a problem for me last year. I sorted it out by Laguna.

“There were a few things we worked on at Laguna Seca to help me sort that problem out. Usually, we’ll take a set to half-stint before needing to save tires. I made a big jump this year, but I still lack some of that to the veterans.”

(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

If his COTA win was “beginner’s luck,” was Herta’s win at Laguna Seca a “veteran’s race?”

“I wouldn’t classify myself anywhere near a veteran,” Herta quipped. “It was a really good drive at Laguna. I think it showed the maturity building throughout the year in myself and in the team. It takes a lot to win an IndyCar race, it takes a perfect day, and everyone has to be on point. There were a lot of days when we weren’t.

“To finally get it right was amazing.”

In the virtual world, big things were expected from Herta, according to rival gaming executive Darren Cox of Torque Esports.

That company stages “The Race – All Star Competition” on the R Factor gaming platform, which is different than iRacing. Herta finished 10th in the “The Race” on March 15. That was the second highest-finishing professional behind seventh-place Felix Rosenqvist of IndyCar’s Chip Ganassi Racing.

That following week, Herta had computer failure.

Instead of a race against virtual competition, Herta was racing against time to find computer parts.

“It really sucked because I was really looking forward to it,” Herta told NBCSports.com. “I have it all sorted now. It was so hard to get stuff right now because of the COVID-19 stuff, but I was able to get it running again.

“The fan was starting to go, so my PC was overheating. It didn’t do any more damage because I caught it in time. But it was a fan on the motherboard.

“It might have gotten me behind on the first weekend. Since then, that has not been an issue.”

He finished just in time to participate in the March 28 American Red Cross Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International but completed just 10 laps.

He has one top 10 in four IndyCar iRacing Challenge starts, a best of seventh at Barber Motorsports Park. Herta has two more races to up his virtual game in the series — Saturday at COTA and May 2 at a TBA “dream track.”

“It’s harder to drive in iRacing than it is on the R Factor,” Herta said. “I also think I made some mistakes in other races, like at Barber and Watkins Glen. I qualified dead last at Watkins Glen and got taken out at the start. At Michigan, we were quick as well and I tried to avoid the wrecks, but Josef Newgarden spun out right in front of me.”

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Herta enjoys racing against legendary drivers from other racing series in the virtual realm. Drivers that have competed in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge include seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, two-time NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Busch, NASCAR fan favorite and NBC Sports broadcaster Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Another “special guest” from another top racing series with experience at COTA is expected to be announced by IndyCar and NBC Sports later this week.

“I think it is really cool,” Herta said. “They are legends in their whole right in the racing community. It’s really cool to see guys are interested in running different disciplines and trying different stuff.

“It’s cool to see and it’s cool to see how well they have done, too. People are open to driving different disciplines now. Today, things are more lenient, and drivers have more say. You see guys driving the Indy 500 and the Dakar stuff. It’s cool to see that.”

Herta’s lifestyle has not changed much since the shutdown. He continues to train and play video games, just like many 20-year olds. He still lives at home with his parents, although he isn’t able to practice with his band, “The Zibs” because of social distancing.

Once real racing returns, with the hopes of a June 6 race at Texas Motor Speedway, Herta will continue his development in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Realistically, if I cut out the mistakes, I would like to be in a championship position at the end of the year,” Herta said. “I would like to show up at the last race and have a theoretical chance at a championship.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
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The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)