After reeling off three consecutive wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta has taken the lead in the Indy Lights championship and is drawing interest from Verizon IndyCar Series teams.
RACER has learned multiple teams have reached out to gauge Herta’s availability next season, with the inquiries being centered on whether staying with Andretti for IndyCar is little more than a formality. With the 18-year-old’s star on the rise, plus ongoing support from team co-owner George Steinbrenner IV, it appears the young Californian could have more than Andretti Autosport to choose from once his time on Mazda’s Road To Indy is complete.
“It’s a tough thing to keep focused on my main goal of winning the Indy Lights championship while knowing we have IndyCar teams expressing interest in me,” Herta told RACER. “We have a really great package with the Steinbrenner family, so it’s cool to know that we’re hearing from [IndyCar teams], but the goal is to get the Indy Lights championship and the $1 million dollars from Mazda that comes with it to help get to IndyCar.”
With the Indy Lights season approaching the halfway point, Herta and the Steinbrenners are also working on developing new sponsors that could be part of a 2019 IndyCar graduation plan.
“We also have a couple of sponsors that are super interested that we might be able to get for next year,” he added. “That would make it easier for us to get into the Verizon IndyCar Series.”
After Indy Lights, Herta’s first choice would be to stick with Michael Andretti’s team. There’s a strong family bond to consider; his father Bryan drove for Andretti in IndyCar and sports cars, co-owns the Andretti-Herta Autosport entry driven by Marco Andretti, and as a whole, the Andrettis have been like a second family for Colton.
But with ongoing talks between the team and McLaren Racing to field a joint entry next season — a fifth full-time car to run — it’s unclear if the teenager will have an open seat to fill at the Honda-powered program.
“It makes [Andretti] aware we’re getting noticed on the driver market, but the bond goes deeper than just the last year and a half I’ve been with them in Indy Lights,” Herta said. “It’s at the top of the list I’d like to get a contract from; they’ve been up front this year and have a really strong driver lineup. Financially, they’re super stable and have great resources, so of course you’d want to drive for them if you can.”
Outside of Andretti, a variety of options can be envisioned for Herta. From veteran teams like Ed Carpenter Racing to Dale Coyne Racing to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, to expanding outfits like Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Juncos Racing and Scuderia Corsa, a promising young driver with a motivated co-owner is not something most team owners will ignore. Herta says his involvement with the Steinbrenner family will continue, no matter where he lands.
“I see myself moving up with them, regardless,” he continued. “They’ve already done a ton for my career, and as long as they want to be with me, I’ll go wherever they want to go. I’ve learned so much from them already. The driving side is for me to learn, but it’s on the sponsorship and marketing side where they’ve taught me so much. Really getting into the marketing side has been important to me since we joined with the Steinbrenners, and we’ll keep working and developing that side together.”
It’s hard to say where Herta will be driving in 2019. One thing is for sure, though: If it isn’t with Andretti, the father-son duo will have a new experience to process as the junior Herta looks to beat the elder Herta on the IndyCar trail.
“I haven’t really thought about that yet, but it would be weird competing against my dad,” he said. “Eventually, it would be really cool if he was on the timing stand with me because he knows a lot about strategy and how to call a race, but it’s also going to be really cool if and when I beat his driver, whoever that is!”