AUSTIN, Texas – Maybe there’s something to the fact that Colton Herta is driving an unpainted, unwrapped Indy car, while the rest of the NTT IndyCar Series drivers participating in INDYCAR Spring Training at Circuit of The Americas are running in liveried machines.
Maybe the fact that Herta’s Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda is nothing but carbon black other than a few manufacturer No. 88 decals placed in the appropriate locations has nothing to do with the series rookie being fastest for the third straight session. Maybe not, but team president Brian Barnhart they may leave the car with its current look if the good fortune continues.
“It doesn’t look that bad,” Herta said after pacing Wednesday morning’s two-hour practice on the 3.41-mile permanent road course with a lap of 1 minute, 46.6401 seconds (115.116 mph). “It’s kind of cool that we have a test livery. It doesn’t look that bad on track.”
While it wasn’t his best overall lap of the two-day test featuring 25 NTT IndyCar Series drivers – Herta clocked a lap of 1:46.6258 Tuesday afternoon – it was still nearly four-tenths of a second ahead of the competition for the third of four scheduled sessions. Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, in the No, 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, was second Wednesday morning at 1:47.0132 (114.715 mph), his best lap to date and the second-best lap of anyone with just a four-hour practice remaining Wednesday afternoon.
While remaining his normal reserved self, the 18-year-old Herta couldn’t help but marvel with the results he’s achieved this week, considering it was questionable at one point whether the team would even test at COTA.
“This track just suits my driving style a lot,” the 2018 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires runner-up said. “The team has been working really hard to get the car where it needs to be. Obviously, they’ve made really big gains in the winter time compared to last year, and we’re kind of seeing that. Really stout job by the boys.
“We weren’t even sure we were going to make it to Austin for this test. The car is still all black. It was a tough winter for everyone, so to get the car ready and have no problems on any runs from a technical standpoint proves how good the team is and how hard everyone is working.”
Rossi was followed on the Session 3 timesheet by Simon Pagenaud, whose top lap was 1:47.2116 (114.503 mph) in the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was fourth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, at 1:47.7899 (113.888 mph).
The 25 drivers completed 453 laps in the session – the most by Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (27) and fewest by James Hinchcliffe of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (seven). Hinchcliffe was one of several drivers to go off course and cause a red-flag stoppage of practice as more and more began testing their limits on the COTA track featuring a daunting combination of high-speed straights and corners along with technical series of turns.
As fast and impressive as he’s been, Herta said there’s more to be had in wringing out his car.
“There’s 20 sectors and (on Tuesday) I was fastest in 15 or 16 of them. The one thing I still struggle with is that a lot of the quick times can get within half a second of their theoretical (best) time and I was eight and half tenths off my theoretical time. A 1:45 (lap) was possible if you look at all my sectors. I didn’t quite put it together and, come race weekend, that’s what you’re going to have to do because you’ll have to be picture perfect.”
Teams are using the test days as preparation for the first NTT IndyCar Series race at COTA, the INDYCAR Classic set for March 24. It is the second race on the 17-race 2019 schedule.