Ahead of IndyCar’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, drivers were a little baffled by the performance of the two tire options available.
Usually the softer red-walled tires are quick for a few laps before degrading and losing relative performance to the harder black-walled tires, but the grippy street circuit seemed to throw that thinking on its head.
After close examination with his Andretti Autosport team in the lead-up to the race, Colton Herta decided that having a set of black-walled tires reserved for the end of the race would be the best way to go.
As it turned out, there were a couple late race restarts that saw the young driver testing his skill and his car’s abilities in order defend against a much more experienced, two-time champion in order to take the win.
The tire strategy helped secure Herta’s fourth IndyCar victory, and as he told MotorsportWeek.com after the race, the decision proved to be a critical factor in the result.
“To answer your question, yes, [the tire choice was critical],” said Herta.
“On the restarts, I found something early on that I thought the red tires might have been a little bit worse for restarts. On the [later] restarts when I was on blacks, I felt the tires come up really quick with the blacks rather than the reds.
“I saw Josef was really fast on the red tires early on, and then we kind of saw that crossover point where I was able to start pulling out some good laps and his tires were starting to fall off.
“But I never really doubted myself or the team today. We had such good cars all across the board.
“It seemed like the weekend at one point or another, one of the Andretti guys was always in the top two or three.
“What an amazing weekend for me and for the whole team.”
The tire options were such an unknown heading into the race, that each of the top three finishers actually chose different strategies for the two-stop race.
But the decision to trust the harder tires to work well at the end of the race, even after a couple heat cycles, was the clinching factor that allowed Herta to hold off a hungry champion that was filling his mirrors.