The scene on pit lane at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca will tell you a lot about Colton Herta.
Bryan Herta’s son was in the BMW Team RLL pits on Saturday – the IMSA team he’s been attached to all season – holding out the signboard to stop the No. 25 IMSA GT Le Mans BMW M8 during morning practice. Next, he was pulling tires over the wall as more menial tasks were sent his way.
Placed within BMW Team RLL to test drive on occasion but, more frequently, to watch and listen and learn from the veterans in a factory racing program, Bryan’s kid was everything other than a teenage racing star in the making. As far as the team was concerned, he was there to help and perform dirty jobs when asked. To his credit, Herta performed them without complaints or hesitation.
The fact that Herta will go from being the lowest man on the BMW Team RLL pecking order last Saturday in Monterey to qualifying for his first Verizon IndyCar Series race this Saturday in Sonoma is where the heart of Hertamania 2.0 can be found.
All-in, no artifice, and plenty humble, Herta might drive like a future super star, but you won’t find an ego or attitude to match those lofty expectations.
“They asked me to help, so I’m here to help,” he told RACER. “And I’m super excited to get to Sonoma for my first IndyCar race. We had a really good year in Indy Lights, Pato [O’Ward] and I pushed each other, we tried to make the team better, the team made us a lot better, and we’ve done a lot of work trying to get ready for IndyCar.”
Herta got his first taste of the power and handling and braking capabilities of an IndyCar last month with his Harding Racing team on the Portland road course. And with a modest amount of experience at Sonoma Raceway, dating back to 2014 in the USF2000 series, his IndyCar debut at one of the series’ most daunting tracks won’t require starting from scratch later this week.
“Everything’s obviously different from the Indy Lights car, but I really felt comfortable in my test with the Harding team at Portland,” he said. “The universal aero kit and the entire car really fits my driving style. I’ve been waiting for this for 18 years, so I can’t wait to make this happen.”
Like every young driver, Herta has dreams of winning his first IndyCar race. He also knows that with Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi locked in a fight for a championship that will be settled on Sunday, dreaming needs to be put on hold.
“It’s a high-speed track, it’s easy to make a mistake and catch a wall, and it’s super technical,” he said. “There’s risks there, but there’s also risks in being the rookie who takes out a Scott Dixon or Alex Rossi… I don’t want to do anything too special. If I can learn and be competitive, I’ll be happy. So many other things are going on that are more important.”
Driving for the Andretti Autosport team, Herta and O’Ward made for an unforgettable duo in Indy Lights. Together, they spent the year trading wins and building the kind of rivalry that hadn’t been seen since the Lights days of Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan.
With the continuation of that rivalry through Andretti’s strong ties to Harding Racing, fans at Sonoma could be getting look into the next 15 or 20 years of IndyCar competition with Herta and O’Ward. And with announcements said to be forthcoming next week on their future plans, there’s reason to believe Sonoma will not be a one-off IndyCar affair for the promising teammates.
“It was a super aggressive rivalry this year in Lights,” Herta said. “We were both paying for our drives and going after a million-dollar [IndyCar advancement] prize. Now, we can help each other more. We didn’t want to do that this year because we were chasing the same goal, but now that we’ve been hired, I think we’ll view our relationship as teammates differently.
“If we work together, we can improve everything. We both seem to be on the right path. We’re both capable of top 10s this weekend if we put things together. He taught me a lot; I think I taught him a lot, and I know how hard we pushed each other in Lights. If we can do that in the future, I’ll be excited to see how far we can go.”