IndyCar’s Colton Herta and F1’s Lando Norris reunited in sim racing

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When Formula One driver Lando Norris of McLaren joins the IndyCar iRacing Challenge Saturday at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), he will renew a rivalry with Colton Herta that began in British Formula 4 in 2015.

At that time, Herta and Norris both drove for Carlin.

Herta finished third overall for Carlin with four race victories and a further eight podium finishes.

The two drivers were fast, very fast and Norris revealed that Herta’s nickname was “Hooligan Herta.”

Both drivers made it to the top rung of their respective sports as teenagers. Herta was just 18 when he started his first NTT IndyCar Series race in the 2018 season-finale at Sonoma Raceway. Norris was 19 years, four months and four days old when he started the 2019 Australian Grand Prix. He was the 12th teenager to start a Formula One race.

Norris is Saturday’s guest racer in the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas (COTA). It’s the fifth race of the six-race IndyCar iRacing Challenge (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Lando and “Hooligan Herta” are together again. They are in open-wheel race cars battling against each other on the only course that Formula One and IndyCar share on its schedule. That is the incredible Circuit of the Americas, although Saturday’s contest is on virtual COTA.

“I’m excited and I’ve already had some warning messages coming in from Colton’s side,” Norris said Friday. “I don’t know if I should read them out or not.

“It will be nice to race him again. It’s been a while since I raced with him. I’m excited.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think obviously I’ve seen Colton racing. It’s been a while since he raced in F4 back in the day. We had some really good times. Yeah, we have a lot of respect for each other. I’m excited.

“Colton is a year younger than me. When he went into F4, he was the youngest guy in the field. I don’t want to sound like I’m talking like a guy with loads of experience, but it looks like he has matured in quite a way as I think I have in some ways. It looks like he’s become an even better driver than what he was. And he was freaking fast when I was racing against him.

“He was nicknamed ‘Hooligan Herta’ for many reasons.

“The racing we had was good fun. I’m excited to race against not only of course Colton but a lot of the other guys as well.”

Colton Herta celebrating IndyCar win at COTA

Herta is the defending winner of the actual IndyCar race at the real COTA in 2019. That was his first career IndyCar win and started him on a path to stardom.

The son of former IndyCar Series race winner Bryan Herta is excited to renew his battles with his former teammate from the Carlin F4 days.

“It’s awesome,” Herta said. “Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Lando, got to race against him for a year in British F4, then did some testing with him through Formula 3 and stuff. I have a lot of respect for him.

“It’s cool to see all these guys that are interested in running IndyCar and have the chance now virtually to do it. It is really cool to be able to race against Lando again. I’m looking forward to it.”

If the COVID-19 pandemic had not shut down the world, Norris would have been consumed in the Formula One world and Herta would have been concentrating on IndyCar.

Because nobody knows for sure when real racing will return, the drivers have fed their competitive appetite in virtual racing.

That has allowed Norris to test his skills against IndyCar competition. It’s important to the McLaren driver in order to keep his skills sharp. He has no idea when real racing will return.

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Norris has been a regular in the sim racing world. That has helped him adapt to the different cars that he has raced in the virtual world.

“It’s close already, especially for the guys who obviously haven’t driven iRacing anywhere near as much as me, because I’ve done a ton of it,” Norris said. “I’m in the fortunate position of it being something I’m very used to but a bunch of other guys aren’t used to as much.

“The more they get used to it, know how to drive it, it’s not exactly like driving an Indy car, I’m sure. There are differences in the iRacing models and stuff that are good, but there’s still things you need to know, learn about, how you can’t over-push the tire, over-slip it and so on.

“The more guys get used to this and learn how to drive another car, the better they’re going to be getting. I was close already. I know Sage Karam was very quick in the practice race. He does a lot of iRacing as well.

“It shows the people who have been more on this, on the program, on iRacing, are the faster guys at the moment. I’m sure it’s going to be getting closer and closer once everyone learns the secrets and tricks on how to do it.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500