He was fastest in Spring Training, second quick in the Friday’s first practice period and right in the mix when it mattered most on Saturday.
Colton Herta backed up all his speed with a solid showing and qualified fourth in his Harding/Steinbrenner Honda for Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas.
It should have been the second Fast Six start for the 18-year-old rookie but he was denied at St. Pete and lost his fastest laps for accidentally impeding another driver. But there was no such problem on COTA’s 3.4-mile road course as he came within three-tenths of pole winner Will Power.
“I’m super excited,” said Herta. “I think it kind of showed that the practice pace we had in February was true here.”
“I think we were kind of good on old tires at the test so you knew our race pace was going good — so it was a question mark on the qualifying pace this weekend. To show we had the pace during qualifying is really reassuring because I know we can back it up in the race.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t go for the hundred grand like Will can, but we can still go for the race win.”
Power has a chance to claim a $100,000 bonus if he wins the race, but Saturday was a major victory for little Herta, considering he missed the entire second practice session after blowing an engine Friday.
“My guys as well as all the boys and engineers from Honda did a great job to get me out there in the third practice period,” continued Herta, who managed 18 laps in the extra 30 minutes on Friday that took the place of Sunday morning warm-up. “This is a wild place — you’re really on the edge, but it’s cool when you put everything together for 20 corners.”
The second-generation driver knows the third IndyCar start of his career will likely come down to tire management, which he learned in Indy Lights.
“Having 45 minutes on one stint of tires helps,” he said. “The degradation is going to be pretty big this weekend and I think everybody kind of knows that. Lights really prepared me for it.
“Racing on old tires is a lot tougher because there’s a lot more of a margin for error. You make a smaller mistake on old tires, and it makes a bigger difference.”