INDIANAPOLIS — Colton Herta had already won a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but that was during his stellar Indy Lights career. He swept both Indy Lights races on the IMS road course and the Freedom 100 in 2018.
But there is something special about winning an NTT IndyCar Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the home of Indy car racing since Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.
Although the big race is the 106th Indianapolis 500 on May 29, the 22-year-old Herta was honored and humbled to add the Herta name to the list of IndyCar Series race winners at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he won Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
His father, Bryan, never won there as a driver, but he is a two-time winning team owner in the Indianapolis 500. The late Dan Wheldon drove Herta’s car to victory in the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 in 2011. Alexander Rossi drove Herta’s entry to the victory in the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016.
On Saturday, Bryan Herta was on the radio calling his son’s race strategy and together, they were able to celebrate the victory at Indianapolis.
“For sure, it’s very awesome,” Colton said. “He (Bryan) has won here as a team owner, so now he has won here as a strategist. It was awesome.
“I got to win here in Indy Lights, and that was awesome, but it’s very different than winning in IndyCar here, and I’m sure it’s very different feeling to what winning the 500 would be. We’ll keep trying. It’s great momentum for us going into the big race in a few weeks.”
It was Herta’s seventh career win and gives the driver from Santa Clarita, Calif., a boost of momentum heading into the 106th Indianapolis 500.
After off days on Monday and Sunday, the track opens for practice for the Indianapolis 500 on Tuesday. Practice continues all week leading into Fast Friday when each car gets extra boost and the speeds increase. Saturday features first round qualifications with the final round set for Sunday.
Each driver in the Fast 12 will also get NTT championship points with the pole winner getting 12 points and each driver after him getting one less point than the previous position in inverse order.
Herta realizes his race-winning setup in a rain race on a road course will not technically transfer into success in the Indianapolis 500, but finally getting that first victory of the season provides his team some momentum heading into the biggest race of the year.
“I knew we could do it,” Herta said. “Did I think we were going to win today in a straight-up normal dry race? Probably not. I don’t think that we quite had the speed to win.
“The car was really good in morning warm-ups, so it gave me confidence going into the race. Then, obviously, all hell broke loose, and everything started happening. Yeah, we kind of adapted really well.
“They put some things on the car that would have been fine in the dry, but also would have helped us in the wet, so we kind of had maybe a little bit of a hybrid setup, but not with the intention of being fast in the wet, and it ended up being super-fast in the wet, so it was a lot of fun.”
Because of rain before the race, officials declared it a “wet start” meaning the cars had to start the race on Firestone rain tires. As the track started to rapidly dry, Herta was the first to call into his pits for a switch from rain tires to the racing slicks for a dry track.
The key moment in the race came toward the end, when Herta called his crew and talked them into swapping the racing slicks for the rain tires because he had a hunch it would be long before the entire track was soaked with rain.
“That took pure talent,” he said laughing. “It was really just the call for wets to slicks. Again, the call for slicks to wets that made the difference.
“I think we gained 15 spots on that transition. We pitted on lap three. Everybody pitted on lap four or five. We gained 15 spots in that transition to go from 15th to first.
“It was really cool to be a part of today. The team did a tremendous job. They gave me such an incredible car.
“The most interesting thing is you never have a car that works in the wet and the dry. It’s just not possible, but it happened today. It was very interesting. Felt comfortable in all conditions.
“Yeah, it was fun to do it.”