By Bruce Martin
Note: This story originally appeared on the INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA. To learn more about the app, please visit www.indycar.com/mobile-app
Colton Herta has achieved a tremendous amount of success on the most iconic road courses on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule by “keeping it tidy.”
That racing term may be unfamiliar to many, but Herta completely understands the concept, especially when it comes to speed on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport Honda driver Herta is ready to tidy things up in the July 4 GMR Grand Prix (noon, NBC), the second race on the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule.
“There aren’t any surprises at this track, but you need to be extremely tidy,” Herta said. “Whoever is the tidiest about this place is definitely going to be the fastest. Being tidy is hitting all of your marks, using as much track as you can, braking as late as you can without compromising the exit, still being able to get on the throttle and get good exits, but not leaving any time anywhere in the corner.
“We had a really tidy lap in Q2 last year for the Indy GP. We almost set the track record, but we missed it by half a tenth. It was probably one of the tidier laps I did that year. Because it is such a close time gap to everyone, it makes it interesting. It’s very tough to find time when you give up half a tenth of a tenth in the corner. It’s hard to find that time back.”
In his very short career, Herta last year scored his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES win at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), won his first series pole at Road America and drove to a decisive and dominating victory in the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.
Those are three of the most iconic road courses on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule.
He hopes to achieve success at another iconic venue, which is also the smoothest road course on the schedule and is located at the greatest racing venue on Earth.
Herta, the 20-year-old son of former race-winning INDYCAR driver and current team owner Bryan Herta, is already a two-time winner at the IMS road course with back-to-back victories in Indy Lights in 2018. He won both of those contests from second starting position.
“We had the best race pace,” Herta said of his Indy Lights victories. “We qualified P2 both days, and they were both really close. I have a lot more experience at overtaking in Indy Lights because I started second but got shuffled back in both races on the starts to seventh. From there, it was about managing the tires at that point and trying to get the car back as soon as possible. I got good experience on how to pass cars around here but also how to manage tires.”
Herta is confident his experience in Indy Lights will help him July 4 because of the lack of testing for teams this year in INDYCAR. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season before it started, teams were parked in their respective shops. The season finally got underway June 6 in the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Herta believes his Indy Lights experience has helped him understand the braking points of the IMS road course in an Indy car.
“It’s a different car than the Indy Lights car, so things change, but it’s easy to adapt,” Herta said. “When you have the experience, it’s easier to get up to speed right away. That way, you are focusing on how the car feels and what the car needs to do. In turn, you can spend more time on the car to hopefully make it better for the race.”
When Herta arrived at IMS for last year’s GMR Grand Prix, he already was a race winner in his rookie season. Herta’s victory in the 2019 AutoNation INDYCAR Classic at COTA made him the youngest winner in series history, just a little of a week short of his 19th birthday.
He had high hopes of a great run in the GMR Grand Prix and qualified fourth fastest on the grid. But he crashed after just 15 laps and finished 23rd in the 24-car field.
Herta believes the simplicity of the IMS road course layout is what makes it so challenging. It’s also why lap times are so close, which makes qualifying so vitally important for this particular event.
“There are tricky parts like Turns 7, 8, 9 and 10, the Esses,” Herta said. “You need to not go super hard through the first part of the section so that you can set yourself up for the rest of the section. Turns 1 and 2 are tough to get the right usage out of Turn 1 so that you are still set up through Turn 2, but not compromising your speed through Turn 1.”
A fast driver must be good on the brakes, too. With the straight-line braking coming out of several long straights, including the famed frontstretch of the IMS oval, a fast driver can gain time with rolling speed into the corners at this track.
Track conditions should change, however, because the race that is normally held in early May has been moved to the middle of the summer on America’s Independence Day holiday. The expected higher track and air temperatures will change the handling of the race cars, which means engineers and teams must adapt to the different conditions.
“Hopefully, the setup doesn’t change too much because we had a really good setup,” Herta said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to run a little more downforce or change a little to help rear tires not degrade as fast in the heat.”
By keeping it “tidy,” Herta is hoping to “clean up” in the GMR Grand Prix so he can add another impressive career accomplishment to his already growing collection.