Herta ready to play spoiler role at Laguna finale

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Herta ready to play spoiler role at Laguna finale

IndyCar

Herta ready to play spoiler role at Laguna finale

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Colton Herta has a special relationship with WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and if the winner of the last two IndyCar races at the rolling circuit in Monterey has his way, he’ll happily play the role of spoiler among the remaining title contenders.

Set to finish eighth in the championship, Herta can’t improve his position in the standings after a rough year for the 22-year-old and his Andretti Autosport team, but he can wreak havoc on the drivers who need to earn maximum points to secure the title.

Asked if he’d move aside and help the three drivers in the championship hunt from Team Penske and the two from Chip Ganassi Racing, Herta chuckled and answered as expected.

“I’m gonna go win,” he told RACER. “Obviously you do want to be careful; you don’t want to be the guy to take somebody out of the championship. But then again, you can’t really change your approach. You have to win.”

If he’s leading, there are no incentives — promises of money and cars — that would make Herta consider falling back to second.

“But it depends…if it’s for 16th, sure…” he continued. “But no, not really. I think Honda might have some say in some things, but there’s no way I’m ever giving a win to anybody.”

Herta’s fans will likely remember 2022 as a season-long curiosity where, after dominating the last four races of 2021, he and the Andretti team had no answer for Penske or Ganassi at most rounds. For the first three seasons of his IndyCar career, major mistakes were a rarity, but this year, they’ve cropped up more often than he’d like. Add in some vehicular adversity, and he’s spent nine of 16 rounds sitting 10th or lower in the drivers’ standings.

This comes after placing fifth last season and third in 2020. It’s a downturn nobody would have predicted.

“For me, it’s been a pretty miserable season,” he acknowledged. “No shame in saying that, because everybody knows. Things just haven’t happened this year. So for sure, in the offseason, we’ll have to take a good look at what we did wrong and where we did it wrong and try to make every race a little bit better next year. I feel like I’ve done a good job, but it’s been difficult for sure, for everyone. There’s places where we could have done better with some results, but it’s not like there’s any one big thing that’s set us back.

“It’s just weird stuff like we’re leading at the (August) Indy GP and the car breaks; strange stuff like that. But the important thing is, we’re still learning from it. And whenever these things do happen, it doesn’t happen lightly. Everybody’s obviously very upset and wants to know what happened and to make sure it’s never gonna happen again. It’s good when you have a team like that.”

Turn the clock back 12 months and Herta was the lone bright spot for the Andretti team. Three wins, coupled with four poles and five podiums spoke to the competitiveness his No. 26 Honda was delivering. But in the changeover to 2022 and the losses of veteran drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe along with longtime race engineer Ray Gosselin, Andretti has taken a step back while Penske, Ganassi, and Arrow McLaren SP took notable steps forward.

Lacking the outrageous speed his car made at most rounds in 2021, Herta says there’s nothing to support the notion that he’s been over-driving the No. 26 in an effort to compensate for any shortcomings.

“Not really,” he added. “It is frustrating when you look at the season that we’ve had and the speed that we’ve had at some places, but only have two podiums is not what we were expecting. It does seem like we’ve been just as good on the street courses and maybe made some gains at some road courses since last year. But overall, we just haven’t been as good as last year. Overall, it just hasn’t happened this year, which is really unfortunate.”

The question posed throughout the season to Herta is whether all of the Formula 1 talks and possibility of leaving IndyCar have been a distraction, adding to the adversities he’s faced. With the answer on if he’ll receive the Super License required to race for AlphaTauri expected in the coming days, Herta says focusing on his primary job with the No. 26 Andretti Honda is not — and has not — been a problem.

“There’s always contract talks with a lot of drivers that nobody ever knows about and no one ever hears about it, so it’s never an issue,” he explained. “If I were doing well this season, they’re going to completely forget that narrative of wondering if I’m distracted. So it goes in waves. The only people that truly know what’s going on are inside the teams.

“I understand the concern from fans who wonder why things haven’t been awesome, which is nice to hear. I know that none of us are really happy with how the season’s gone. So far, on my side of the camp, we’re working really hard to turn that around and hopefully propel us into next year.”

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