What were you doing when you were 18 years old? Were you winning races in a top tier racing series where legends like Andretti and Unser cut their teeth? Well, NTT IndyCar Series rookie and second-generation driver, Colton Herta, did just that during Sunday’s inaugural IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the America’s (COTA) in Austin, Texas.
Herta, driver of the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda, made history by becoming the youngest to win a race at 18 years, 11 months, 25 days old in only his third start in America’s top open-wheel series. The son of the IndyCar legend, Bryan Herta, showed that there is a changing of the guard on the horizon in the sport. Led by Colton, the talented class of rookies proved their prowess against a strong field of veteran drivers with the likes of last year’s Indy Lights champion, Patricio O’Ward who finished in eighth, and former Formula 1 driver, Marcus Ericsson who’s unrepresentative fifteenth place finish was caused by a late unsafe release penalty on pit road.
As for the race itself, Team Penske ace and last year’s Indy 500 winner, Will Power, led 45 laps from the pole ahead of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda of Alexander Rossi. After a caution on lap 44 caused by a collision involving James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist, defending series champion Scott Dixon along with Rossi, and Power were forced to pit at the end of the caution period relinquishing the top spot to Herta who ran away from the field on the ensuing restart. During Power’s pit stop though, while exiting the pit box, he released the clutch paddle while applying too many revs causing his driveshaft to break; ending his day in frustrating fashion, which he expressed in the interview thereafter. Dixon and Rossi both restarted outside of the top ten but fought hard to finish in thirteenth and ninth respectively.
2017 series champion, Josef Newgarden piloted his No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet to a solid second place finish; maintaining his championship lead of 18 points ahead of Herta following Newgarden’s win in St. Petersburg two weeks ago. Behind Newgarden was former Indy 500 winner and driver of the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda, Ryan Hunter-Reay in third. Hunter-Reay’s consistent race brought him back to eighth in the championship standings after his Honda engine failed in St. Petersburg. Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver, Graham Rahal battled with the young guns all day to finish in a well-earned fourth ahead of the wily veteran, Sebastien Bourdais in fifth.
The first race for IndyCar at COTA was an astounding success in the opinions of many in the sport. Apart from the unenforced track-limits rule and the late race caution that has put the series’ closed pit road policy under heavy scrutiny, the race lived up to its given name. The fact that the sport was able to crown its youngest ever winner in its first trip to Austin bodes well for the future of IndyCar racing at COTA and the season ahead. Next up on the calendar is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama on April 7th.