INDIANAPOLIS — Colton Herta enters this year’s 2nd annual Music City Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) feeling a lot like he did when he left Music City last August. Defeated.
In the inaugural race around the streets of Nashville last year, the 22-year old was quickest in both practice sessions, quickest in qualifying on Saturday to win the pole and had the field stomped throughout much of this event. He led a race-high 39 of 80 laps and while strategy was flipped, he was back in the hunt and in pursuit of leader Marcus Ericsson in the closing laps. Unfortunately, Herta was pushing too hard and crashed heavily with 5 laps remaining in Turn 9 ending his day with a 19th placed result.
Days like that are what Herta has been trying to reverse his course on. He had the best car. Circumstances took him out of the lead but he was there back on the podium at the very least. He over stepped the limit on the tight confines of a street course and got bit.
In order to win a championship in the NTT INDYCAR Series, you can’t afford days like that. It’s why Herta says that he has to take days like that and ones to where he has a top 5 car and keep them on the podium. That’s the difference right now in the 4 year drivers’ progression into this sport. Consistency up front. It’s also why he says that his approach to how the final 4 races of the season is different than they initially were.
“I mean, at this point, yeah, because we’re not — realistically we’re not going to win the championship,” Herta told me via a zoom call on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s too far out of reach. Maybe if we have an amazing string of the rest of the races we can maybe creep into the top 5, but that would be a pretty big ask.
“I’ll just kind of use the end of this season to focus on the next season and kind of butt through it.
“Just try to get those top 5s every single race. Hopefully we’ve got some good races coming up for us. St. Louis last year we were leading when we had a hashed off brake; Nashville, that went — I don’t want to talk about that one, but we were fast there; and Laguna, we’ve won two times there in the last year. We’ve got really good races coming up for us, we just need to maximize what we can do on those weekends.”
He feels like this weekend in Nashville of all places is a great time to get a win though. He’s shined on street courses and feels like Andretti always has good cars for these types of tracks as well.
“I think we have a great car for it,” Herta said. “The damping thing is so important at every track we go to, especially the ones that are so bumpy, and I think we have a great damping program.
“Yeah, it just seems to work. At all the street circuits we go to, we seem to have a phenomenal car to drive. Hopefully this kind of continues. We had a great car last year, but you never know what you’re going to get when you come back to a street circuit and there’s some changes to the track. I’m hoping it’s as close to what it was last year this year, and we should be in good shape.”
It’s just the fact that you have to take the bad luck out of the equation though as well.
A similar moment happened in Long Beach this past April as to what happened in Nashville last August. He started on the pole. Strategy and an in/out lap on his 1st pit stop put him back to 3rd. Herta pushing too hard to come to pit road for his 2nd pit stop put him in the wall and a 23rd place finish.
A Carb Day crash ruined his primary Indy 500 car. The backup wasn’t good. He finished 25th with it. A bad call to not having Herta pit before a caution in Mid-Ohio took him from a win to 15th. An electrical gremlin in last weekend’s Gallagher Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway took him from another win to 24th. That happened while he was leading the race on Lap 42.
Just look at all those moments that went from almost guaranteed podiums to DNF’s. At some point that has to wear on you right?
How hard is it to bounce back after races like that, especially as the same type of mistakes rather it inside the car or outside of it keep occurring?
Does Herta keep a 24-hour rule like in other sports?
“No, I try to move past it as soon as possible just because it’s no point in — it’s such a weird failure, what happened, that it shouldn’t really ever happen again,” he says. “It was just a strange one. It just sucked that we were leading and it happened.
“Yeah, it’s one that we definitely just want to move on from it.”
Herta has told me multiple times over the years that he wants more podiums. He had 2 in 2020 but upped that to 5 last year. Races like Nashville, and Gateway (mechanical failure late in the race while leading), Mid-Ohio (slow pit stops), Belle Isle (falling from podium to 4th) is what kept him from seriously contending from a title.
This year it’s been more of the same. He has just 2 podiums again. 3 of his 4 years in this sport he’s had 2 podiums in each season. He surely won’t stay there this year right?
He’s just looking for a solid race on Sunday. He’s qualified 9th or better in 6 of the last 7 races. He’s led 41 laps in the last 5 races. In those same 5 starts too, he has just 1 top 10 finish and 4 of the 5 being 12th or worse. It’s not like he’s had slow race cars.
That’s what makes this frustrating and easier in a sense that frustrating in a way that it’s all bad luck and self inflicted but easier to get past because he does have equipment capable of winning.
Last week his teammate won so Andretti has cars able to win still.
“The most important thing is we’ve had speed pretty much everywhere we’ve gone,” he says. “I think the Indy 500 was kind of the outlier where we weren’t great, qualified 25th, and weren’t that great in the race.
“I think everywhere else I’ve been very comfortable with the car and very confident, but yeah, for one reason or another, we just can’t get a roll going. I thought after Toronto we would get it going, then we had an issue in Iowa. We weren’t really incredibly fast in Iowa anyway. I think we still could have finished in the top 10.
“Then obviously come to Indy and leading the race and that happens.”