Herta Conquers COTA for Maiden Win

Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s new ownership structure with the addition of George Michael Steinbrenner IV, new engine supplier with Honda and new driver in Colton Herta combined to create a fast race car at Circuit of The Americas, propelling Herta to his and the team’s first NTT IndyCar Series victory.

Herta stunned at INDYCAR’s Open Test at the 3.41-mile, 20-turn circuit in February, topping three of the four sessions. The lessons learned from testing were put to good use during March’s 60-lap race with Herta only dropping as low as fourth during a pit stop cycle.

A late-race caution on Lap 44, precipitated by contact between James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist, sent Rosenqvist’s No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda into the Turn 20 wall and helped Herta’s march to victory.

The yellow flag not only set up a restart but, thanks to Herta’s pit stop on the prior lap, also allowed his No. 88 Honda to jump to the front when leader Will Power pitted along with Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon, who ran second and third.

The restart at the conclusion of Lap 50 set up a 10-lap shootout for the inaugural victory at COTA. Despite Josef Newgarden in the second position having more than twice as much push-to-pass remaining, Herta was untouched over the final 3.41 miles.

The rookie driver crossed the finish line with a 2.7-second advantage over points leader Newgarden, collecting Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s best performance since scoring a fifth-place finish with driver Gabby Chaves at Texas Motor Speedway in 2017.

Herta’s triumph, just short of his 19th birthday, makes him the youngest winner in Indy car racing history, surpassing the record set by 19-year-old Graham Rahal when he won at St. Petersburg in 2008.

Graham Rahal congratulates Colton Herta in COTA IndyCar podium celebration
Graham Rahal passed the baton to Colton Herta — the new youngest winner in IndyCar history. | Photo: Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media

While Newgarden retains the points lead on the strength of his victory at the season-opener and his second-place finish at COTA, Herta’s win propelled him to second in the championship standings. Eighteen points back from his fellow American, Herta will enter the next round in Alabama handily leading the Rookie of the Year standings.

Behind Newgarden’s second-place effort, Ryan Hunter-Reay added a second Honda to the top three with a third-place finish after starting in the same position. The result represented a bounce-back performance for Hunter-Reay who went out early at St. Pete with an engine failure.

Honda power continued to dominate the top 10 with Graham Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato lined up in positions four through seven at the finish.

Rookie Patricio O’Ward, making his first start with Carlin, executed several aggressive moves to gain track position after slower-than-average pit stops. His eighth-place finish matched his starting position and added a second Chevrolet to the top 10. The results was a new career best for O’Ward, who finished ninth in his series debut last year at Sonoma Raceway.

Rossi, one of the victims of the race’s only caution, brought his Andretti Autosport Honda to the checkered flag in ninth while Jack Harvey earned a second consecutive top-10 finish for Meyer Shank Racing after taking the green flag from the last row.

Power led the most laps after starting from pole, allowing him to clinch the two bonus points on offer. However, getting caught out by the unexpected yellow flag was only the start of Power’s problems. His car became inoperable during his final pit stop and when his crew was unable to get the car moving again, the pole sitter retired from the race with 46 laps completed — and led.

Rosenqvist, the Swedish rookie whose crash led to Power’s pit stop predicament, fared better and ended the race five laps down from the leader in the 23rd position after his Dallara IR-12 was repaired in pit lane and sent back out.

The series heads next to Barber Motorsports Park for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The annual visit to the park-like natural terrain road course will take place April 5–7.

Ben Hinc
Ben Hinchttp://www.benhinc.com
Ben's executive editor title is purposefully broad to encompass the bottomless list of roles he fills for The Apex, which includes webmaster, graphic designer, quality consultant and writer. Ben's technical background and progressive media distribution approach set The Apex apart technologically and philosophically.

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