What a difference a decade can make. Just 10 years ago, Colton Herta was tearing up the International Kart Federation (IKF) series. Flash forward to 2021, and Herta is finishing fifth in the NTT IndyCar Series Championship.
So, what's the story behind this atomic rise to superstardom? How does one go about becoming the youngest racer in American history to score two iconic wins in one exceptional year? Meet Colton Herta, the driver who went from playing video games to podiums in just a little over 10 years.
It's "Indy" Genes
For some drivers, the need for speed is inevitable. In Colton Herta's case, being the son of IndyCar driver Bryan Herta probably helped him realize his motorsports aspirations more quickly and clearly.
It also didn't hurt that Colton was born with more than a dollop of natural talent. He started karting at age six, and made his official SuperKartUSA (SKUSA) debut in 2010 at the ripe age of 10. He did pretty okay, as far as winning consistently and beating all of the competition goes. He was TAG Cadet champion in 2010 and 2011 and won multiple IKF Grand Nationals, as well as the KPV2 title in 2012.
Of course, parents often worry that things like this are just a passing phase. After all, they grow up so quickly. But, in the case of Colton Herta, racing was more than just a fleeting interest. In 2014, he appeared in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda Series. Despite the fact that age restrictions kept him out of the first race of the series, he finished 15th in the series championship.
2014 was also the year he dabbled in overseas driving, taking a win and a pole in the AsiaCup series in his International Formula debut.
Colton Herta's Study Abroad Program
While some American teenagers backpack across Europe to learn more about the ways of life, and other young students spend a semester studying with an illustrious European academy, Colton's teenager years were spent on the overseas tracks.
He drove the MSA Formula series (also known as British Formula 4) in 2015. As the youngest and only American driver in the series, he finished third overall for the season.
Since his age disqualified him from the BRDC British F3 opening in 2016, Colton instead opted to drive in the Euroformula Open series. He not only finished third in this series for the year, but he also competed in six F3 events for the year, winning four of them.
Back on the Home Turf
In 2017, Colton Herta returned to American soil to continue his racing career. The newly-solidified Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing team was looking for a driver for the number 98 car in the Indy Lights series, and Colton fit the bill. In his first race for the series, he took second at the St. Petersburg street circuit. Two subsequent victories in the season led to Rookie of the Year status and third place in the drivers' championship.
He continued in the Indy Lights series for 2018, becoming the first driver in the series to win all three races of the Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- the double-header Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Freedom 100. At the end of the year, Colton was topped in the driver standings by just one person: his teammate, Patricio O'Ward.
Colton wasn't standing still in his free time, either. He tested a Formula E car for Andretti Autosport. He made his NTT IndyCar Series debut in the final round of the season at Sonoma Raceway and tested an Indy car at Portland International Raceway, both for Harding Racing.
Playing With the Big Kids
Now that he had made his series debut, Colton signed with Harding Steinbrenner Racing for the 2019 IndyCar season. Just 18 years old when the season started, Colton Herta became the youngest winner in the series when he guided the number 88 car to victory at the IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas (COTA). At age 19, he became the youngest driver to win a pole position thanks to his victory at Laguna Seca. He qualified for the Indianapolis 500, but was forced to retire from the race when his gearbox suffered a mechanical failure.
While Felix Rosenqvist took Rookie of the Year for 2019, Colton was just five points behind him, finishing 7th in driver standings.
But Colton had a few side projects going on, as well. Along with his fellow Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) Racing team members Connor De Phillippi, Augusto Farfus, and Philipp Eng, Herta drove a BMW M8 GTE to a win in the GT Le Mans class at 24 Hours of Daytona. In total, he made six IMSA starts in 2019 and 2020.
2020 was a bummer of a year for a lot of people for many reasons, but Colton made the most of it. His first IndyCar race of the season took place at Texas Motor Speedway, and he made an impressive 8th place finish at the 2020 Indy 500. With a win at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and a runner-up finish at Indianapolis' road course, he came in third for the end of year standings.
Colton's 10-Year Plan
For 2021, most race fans anticipated that either Colton Herta or Scott Dixon would take the IndyCar Series championship. Colton was signed to drive the No. 26 Honda for Andretti Autosport, with backing from Gainbridge, and it seemed as though magic was in the air.
Unfortunately, Colton got hung up in the Josef Newgarden collision at the series start at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. He shook off the disappointment at Barber to win his first street circuit race at St. Petersburg. His second-place finish at Road America and third-place finish at the IMS Road Course second-round race seemed to point to very good things happening.
However, there were some big potholes in the road to success. After qualifying for pole position at the inaugural Nashville Grand Prix, he lost his lead to Marcus Ericsson under caution, and lost control attempting to regain the lead.
Still, Colton ended the season on a high note, with a dramatic comeback win at Grand Prix of Long Beach, and winning from the pole position at Laguna Seca.
What About 2022?
At the end of the 2021 race season, there was much speculation about what Colton Herta would do for 2022. Would he head back to Europe and try the Formula 1 circuit? Would he make the leap to NASCAR? Experts went back and forth debating as to the best career option for the proven race winner.
While compelling arguments were made on all fronts, the final choice remained in the hands of 21-year-old Colton Herta himself, who chose to stay on the home turf. He joins team mates Alexander Rossi, Romain Grosjean, and Devlin DeFrancesco with Andretti Autosport for 2022.
Colton has a blistering season planned with the series opener race, Streets of St. Petersburg, scheduled for February 27 -- just over a month before his 22nd birthday. While only time will tell what the season has in store for this young but seriously accomplished driver, we wish him the best behind the wheel. We've also heard his band, Zibs, isn't half bad, either. It's good to have a backup plan, you know!
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