NTT IndyCar Series driver and California native Colton Herta has been right at home in Texas.
Two of the most impressive performances from his 2019 rookie season came in the Lone Star State. In March, he became the youngest race winner in Indy-car history at Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
Then, a few months later at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, he made jaws drop with exceptional passes before a late battle with Scott Dixon ended with both in the wall.
That earned him a lecture from the five-time series champion. But you can argue it was the point where Herta became the fearless face of IndyCar’s thriving youth movement.
As the 2020 season begins Saturday night at TMS, he’s now a full-fledged member of the Andretti Autosport family. He’ll have all the resources he needs to improve in his second year.
But like everybody else, he’ll be knocking the rust off after an extended shutdown because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Doing so at TMS isn’t exactly easing into it.
“I think [Texas] is a very tough place to start,” Herta said during an IndyCar ZOOM teleconference on Wednesday. “Obviously, going from 0 miles an hour for a very long time to 220 [miles per hour] is very difficult.
“But with that being said, I think it’s going to be more about getting all the unknowns out. They covered kind of the COP [center of pressure], the aerodynamics of the car, the weight distribution that the Aeroscreen changes.
“I think it’s actually going to be a very interesting race. I think with these 35-lap stints, it can open for more rubber going down on the track and can open up a second lane possibly and make the track grippier, so we can follow closer and hopefully get more passing in.”
Herta’s shown he’s got the guts to make those passes. Now, he needs to see the checkered flag more often. The run-in with Dixon last June at Texas led to one of his seven DNFs in 2019.
It’s also worth noting that four of those seven DNFs came on ovals, where he admits he’s still “learning a little bit.”
But under the Andretti banner, he’s confident he can shore things up.
“We have good data there,” Herta said. “I think we’ve improved the cars over the off-season in places like Gateway and Iowa, where I think we struggled last year compared to Ganassi and Penske.
“Just taking everything that we learned last year – not from the car but from the driving itself and really just the race prep for me – I think I’ll be very well prepared going into this year on all the ovals.”
In this shortened season where results will have more impact, it could be the difference in Herta fulfilling his stated goal for Year 2 after winning last year’s finale at Laguna Seca: A championship run.
SATURDAY INDYCAR START TIMES AND TV SCHEDULE:
—IndyCar practice: 1 p.m., NBC Sports Gold
—IndyCar qualifying: 5 p.m., NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold
—Countdown to Green: 7:30 p.m., NBCSN
—IndyCar Genesys 300: 8 p.m., NBC
—IndyCar postrace coverage: 10 p.m., NBCSN