2019 IndyCar Review: Colton Herta's rise to prominence
The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series witnessed a stunning year of highs and lows for everyone involved over the course of 17 races, Motorsport Week reflects on some of the key moments which encapsulated the gripping season. Next up, we take a look at the young rookie who has taken the series by storm...
Colton Herta - son of former IndyCar driver, Bryan - arrived into IndyCar at the final race of the 2018 season at Sonoma Raceway alongside Patricio O'Ward, who beat him to the Indy Lights title for Harding Racing. While he didn't make a headline performance at the event as O'Ward had done, it was certainly a steady start for the youngster.
With the Harding Steinbrenner team eventually dropping O'Ward just days before the pre-season 'Spring Training' test at the Circuit Of The Americas, it left Herta as the sole driver for the outfit.
The off-track business certainly didn't bother him as he spent both days at the top of the timesheets and looked set to shock the established teams going to the season opener in St.Petersburg. A steady eighth-place finish to open his account in the season was a solid effort.
Three weeks later, IndyCar returned to COTA for the first race at the venue and Herta did not disappoint. Starting fourth on the grid, the then 18-year old fought hard at the front with Team Penske's Will Power and Josef Newgarden throughout.
When Power dropped out of the race with a driveshaft issue in the pitlane, Herta held off Newgarden to become the youngest winner in IndyCar history, beating the previous record held by Graham Rahal for over 10 years.
A tough run of races at Barber, Long Beach and the Indianapolis Grand Prix came after as the challenges of IndyCar became a reality for the youngster.
He swiftly turned that around when it came to preparing for the Indianapolis 500. He continuously threatened the top of the speed charts throughout practice, daring to take more and more downforce off the car to go faster. Eventually, he would put his #88 car on the second row and look to be a serious threat going into the race. However, it would only last a mere six laps as his gearbox failed.
Another exceptional performance came during the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway as he looked to be in contention for at least a podium place, but an ambitious move into Turn 3, coupled with an equally ambitious defence from reigning series champion Scott Dixon, saw the pair collide with just 20 laps to go.
Herta would come back and stun the field by taking his first pole position at Road America. It too was short-lived as Andretti Autosport's Alexander Rossi would tear around the outside of him into Turn 1 and would eventually finish in eighth. Further solid outings in Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Gateway kept Herta in the hunt for the Rookie Of The Year honours against Felix Rosenqvist, Santino Ferrucci and Marcus Ericsson.
The final two races of the season really saw Herta push on as he would take pole position once more in Portland. He led into Turn 1 and held off Dixon for 36 laps before his tyres began to fall off the cliff. He couldn't keep Dixon behind any longer. Strong pace throughout the race would still see Herta cross the line in fourth place.
At the final round of the season in Laguna Seca, Herta claimed his third pole of the season and the race saw the 19-year old in imperious form, leading 83 of the 90 laps and taking his second victory of the season while coping with the immense pressure from Power in the final laps.
Despite the victory, it was not enough to claim the ROTY title as Rosenqvist did enough to hold off Herta by just five points.
The 2019 campaign saw Herta shine brightly amongst the IndyCar field, with a seat in the powerhouse that is the Andretti Autosport outfit for the 2020 season. If he can work on his tyre management and consistency in races, it's not out of the realms of possibility to think he could potentially be a title contender in 2020.