Colton Herta wasted little time applying lessons learned from Portland to close out his IndyCar rookie season with a win from pole at Laguna Seca on Sunday.
Herta had also put the No.88 Harding Steinbrenner car on pole at Portland three weeks ago and led through the opening stint, but torched his tires and ultimately fell out of contention for the race win.
But, on a track where degradation levels were even higher, and in the face of race-long pressure from Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and, later, Will Power, Herta controlled his pace — and his Firestones — superbly to take the second win of his short career.
“[I had a] great car,” he said. “A car that you could manage the tires pretty easily with, so that seemed to be really important.
“And yeah, it was a tough race. I was either getting hounded by Dixon or Pagenaud or Power the whole time; they definitely didn’t make it easy on me. But, yeah, happy to kind of put together what we had in Portland and learn from our mistakes [with] the tire-wear issues, and go forward with it.
“But it seemed like our tire wear was a lot better than a lot of people’s. I would say for sure Dixon and Pagenaud; definitely not Power. He seemed to have a little bit of an edge. But those last two or three laps, I would gap by a second a lap and have a nice margin coming into the pits if anything were to go wrong, or if I had a slow out-lap or in-lap.”
The race will be the last for Harding Steinbrenner as a standalone team ahead of its integration into the Andretti Autosport fold in 2020, and, while Herta fell just short of stealing Rookie of the Year honors (Felix Rosenqvist’s swashbuckling drive from 14th to sixth left the Swede five points to the good), Herta was pleased to end the season on the strongest possible note.
“It was a perfect race,” he said. “Whenever you win an IndyCar race, it has to be a perfect race. You can’t really make mistakes and get away with it, just because there’s always two or three other guys on that day that can win. For sure there were a few guys that could win today, and we just outdid them. We had the pace on them, and we were definitely the best today, so we definitely deserved to win.”