Colton Herta signs four-year extension with Andretti Autosport through the 2027 season

Colton Herta Andretti extension
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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Colton Herta has signed a four-year contract extension with Andretti Autosport that ties the American racer to the IndyCar team through 2027 and indicates Herta has put a pause on his Formula One ambitions.

The extension announced Tuesday is significant because it shuts out the biggest teams in IndyCar from poaching Herta when his current Andretti deal expires at the end of the 2023 season. And it suggests both he and team owner Michael Andretti have accepted neither will be on the F1 grid anytime soon.

The extension specifies that Herta will drive the No. 26 Andretti Autosport entry in IndyCar with sponsorship from loyal partner Gainbridge, which signed a concurrent extension.

“Colton is a true talent in a race car and has natural determination that makes him want to win,” Michael Andretti said. “We’ve been really proud to represent Gainbridge. We share a commitment to compete at the top level and look forward to seeing Colton return to victory lane in the yellow and black Gainbridge colors.”

It brings to a pause a rollercoaster year for the 22-year-old Herta, who at times seemed poised to become the first American driver on the F1 grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015. His chance was scuttled by the FIA, the governing body for F1, which would not grant Herta the Super License required to compete in the global series.

The extension also shows some resignation that Andretti Global will not be on the current 10-team F1 grid anytime soon. Michael Andretti, with assistance in part from Gainbridge, had hoped to convince the FIA to expand the grid for two American-owned cars, with Herta one of the drivers.

But the existing F1 teams are unwelcoming to grid expansion and wealth redistribution, and although Herta was free to leave Andretti for an F1 opportunity, the lack of Super License has him currently relegated to IndyCar.

“I’m super happy and grateful for everything the entire Andretti and Gainbridge teams have done for me,” Herta said in an Andretti-issued statement. “This is a huge step for me professionally and I’m so glad it can be with a top team like Andretti Autosport. We have big goals and a lot of work ahead of us, but I can’t be happier to do it with this team and represent Gainbridge.”

From the IndyCar perspective the signing is huge: The No. 10 at Chip Ganassi Racing is expected to open when Alex Palou moves to McLaren in 2024, reigning series champion Will Power is entering a contract year on the No. 12 with Team Penske, and six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon turns 43 next season – his 21st year with Ganassi.

There’s also been a ton of F1 hype surrounding Herta, who this year signed a testing contract with McLaren. But Herta presently lacks the points required to obtain F1’s mandatory license, in large part because IndyCar is undervalued in the ranking system. The FIA does not govern IndyCar, or NASCAR for that matter, and essentially rates both as mid-pack series.

Red Bull had asked that Herta, a seven-race winner who in 2019 became IndyCar’s youngest ever winner days before his 19th birthday, be granted a waiver for a Super License. Had the FIA not refused, Red Bull had hoped to put Herta at its AlphaTauri junior team next season.

The lack of a license essentially shut the door on F1 for Herta for now, and the Californian did not attend last week’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

Herta was a popular figure at the Miami Grand Prix in May when he attended as a guest of McLaren, asked to sit in the F1 car and requested a diagram of the steering wheel. When Herta showed up two months later at a McLaren F1 test in complete preparation, he wowed on the track, word spread, and rival teams developed sudden interest in landing the American.

In the meantime, McLaren courted too many drivers to count and Herta found himself out of the rotation when the team announced it would satisfy F1’s development driver rule by using Palou (a Spaniard) at the U.S. GP’s free first practice and Pato O’Ward (a Mexican) at Abu Dhabi in the season finale.

Australian upcoming star Oscar Piastri was hired for McLaren’s second seat on the 2023 grid, and Herta was officially out of the McLaren planning.

There’s also less urgency surrounding Herta now that Williams plans to promote F2 driver Logan Sargeant of Florida into F1 next year should the 21-year-old earn his Super License by season’s end. That would give Williams the win in scoring the newest American driver from F1’s fastest-growing market.

The 2023 season will be Herta’s fifth in IndyCar. Gainbridge has been an Andretti top partner since 2018.

Herta will be the Andretti veteran in a lineup that lost Indianapolis 500 winners Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay heading into this year.

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”