Herta’s first IndyCar win signals newcomers are close behind

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Photo Credit: courtesy of indycar | Daily Texan Staff

The inaugural IndyCar Classic welcomed in the latest motorsport event at the Circuit of The Americas while also inadvertently foreshadowing the possible future of the NTT IndyCar Series.  

Colton Herta, making just his third career start in the NTT IndyCar series, held off Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay for his first career victory while simultaneously breaking the record for the youngest driver ever to win a IndyCar race.

“I’m gonna die an IndyCar winner,” Herta said. “But to break the record of the age, it feels surreal. It was cool to win here — first race at the Circuit of the Americas — and the youngest to do that … It’s spectacular and something I’ll look back on for the rest of my career.”

Thirteen drivers in Sunday’s IndyCar Classic — nearly half the field — had less than fifty career starts entering the 2019 season. Six of those are rookies, including Herta, who was joined by fellow rookie Patricio O’Ward in the top 10.

Six days away from his 19th birthday, Herta spent most of the day at the top of the leader board. But like most drivers, Herta spent the afternoon trailing Will Power. Power, who started on the pole, led from the green flag until lap 45 when the races’ lone caution brought the field back together.

James Hinchcliffe collided with Felix Rosenqvist entering the infamous turn 19, sending Rosenqvist into a tailspin and bringing out the yellow flag. Herta, who entered pit row just before the caution came out, stayed out while the leaders pitted. 

Alexander Rossi was less then a second behind Power when the caution came out, but left pit road in 14th place. Power entered in first place, but did not come out at all after his Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet stalled out in the pits, giving Power his first DNF of the year.

Enter the rookie Herta, who left Newgarden and the rest of the field in the dust after a solid restart while laying down the fastest lap of the day.

“I kinda felt a little natural, the tires came up to temperature really quickly and it was off to the races for me,” Herta said.

Herta didn’t look back, leading the final 15 laps of the day en route to his first career win and the first team win for Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

Founded in 2017 by Mike Harding, Team Harding fielded four different drivers in the 2018 season with only one top-10 finish. Just a few months later following the end of the season, Harding announced at Yankee Stadium that the team would not only be adding a new owner, but a new driver. George Steinbrenner IV, the grandson of the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, joined the team last October and brought his good friend Colton Herta along. 

“Colton and I looked at each other and said, ‘We have the same dream, why not chase it together?’” Steinbrenner IV said. “We always talked about what it would be like to win an IndyCar race together.”

It took only three races for that childhood dream to come true for both Steinbrenner and Herta.

“We’ve been friends since 12 years old,” Herta said. “We partnered up with this crazy idea that we could do IndyCar racing one day. To have him here with me on this ride means so much.”

While Power and Hunter-Reay remain some of the sports’ top names both on and off the track, it’s clear that the next generation of young drivers is right at their bumper.

“I don’t think one race win is enough,” Herta said with a grin. “I wanna go for another one.”