Colton Herta has a chance to add another impressive feat to his growing list of accomplishments in Saturday’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race. The star driver for Andretti Autosport in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is driving a BMW for Team RLL in the final race of the IMSA season.
In 2019, Herta won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in IMSA and the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas as an 18-year-old. It was the first of his three victories in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
If Herta can drive the RLL BMW to victory in Saturday’s 12-hour race at Sebring International Raceway, it will be another great racing achievement for the son of Bryan Herta, who is just 20 years old.
“It would be absolutely amazing,” said Herta, who drives the No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda in INDYCAR. “I’m very fortunate to be able to compete with BMW in GTLM and Team RLL. I’m very fortunate to have that chance.
“If we do win Sebring, it would be amazing to do it so early in my career. I think Sebring is one of the top-five biggest races in the U.S. and one of the top-10 races in all of the world. I’m very fortunate to be in the position where I get to race in it.”
Herta is part of an impressive collection of NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers that will compete in the IMSA endurance race Saturday. Because of the length of the contest, IMSA teams add extra drivers to the lineup to break up the driving shifts.
Other INDYCAR stars competing Saturday including six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon with Wayne Taylor Racing, Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi with Acura Team Penske, Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 55 Honda and Sebastien Bourdais, who was the regular driver for Mustang Sampling Racing/JDC-Miller MotorSports in the No. 5 Cadillac but will return to INDYCAR in 2021 with team owner A.J. Foyt.
Two of INDYCAR’s most accomplished drivers include three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya at Acura Team Penske. Castroneves will return to INDYCAR next season with a six-race schedule for Meyer Shank Racing.
The season’s final IMSA race will feature the best of the best in INDYCAR in one of the great road races of the season.
“It shows the talent level in INDYCAR is very deep when you can pull that many people and transfer them right into cars that are so different to drive from an Indy car and they can get up to speed quite quickly,” Herta said. “It shows the diversity and level of INDYCAR is extremely high. Also, the seats are getting more and more limited in IMSA, but the level of INDYCAR drivers is the same.
“Not only is the series great and they have these huge events you really want to be a part of, many of the guys in INDYCAR would probably come over here and drive for free just to race in these races. I feel very fortunate to do that.
“To add on your resume, you won the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring or Petit Le Mans would be huge.”
Herta is one of the many drivers in INDYCAR who has driven a variety of different racing machines in his career. INDYCAR prides itself as the most diverse racing series in the world with the championship including street courses, road courses, short ovals, intermediate ovals and superspeedways.
“The cars are so different to drive, but the INDYCAR guys get up to speed quickly because of the diversity of the series,” Herta said. “We have so many different tracks, and you change your driving style based on the tracks. Even within the tracks, they are so different. It helps the diversity of INDYCAR, and the competitiveness helps a lot because of the learning curve. You are used to changing all the time.”
There are many techniques that work in an Indy car that don’t apply to a sports car, especially in a GT car, which has completely different handling, braking and horsepower techniques.
“The driving styles are extremely different, so going through the data is very important for me,” Herta said. “Going through the notes that I write about the car and going through the manual is important because the car is completely different from an Indy car with the settings and pages you need to know. It takes a lot of time to get into a car like this, especially a GT car. It drives so much different than a prototype and an Indy car. Those are closer. It makes it a bit of a learning curve, but if you do it enough times you get comfortable with the car.
“But jumping in from an Indy car, I have some habits that I try to draw away as much as possible. The cars are very different. The GT car is a little lazier because it doesn’t have as much downforce and a little less power, but it is still a very quick car. The weight distribution and wheelbase are so different from an Indy car, the overall reaction you get from a steering and brake input is completely different.”
There is also a completely different mindset that a racing driver uses in a sports car endurance race. Most of the races on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule last a little over two hours. The exception is the Indianapolis 500, a race that is generally over in about 3-1/2 hours.
Compare that to the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, two races that test stamina, endurance and reliability for both the driver and the equipment.
“The biggest focus in INDYCAR is you are pushing it to the limit the whole time, the whole race because you really don’t have a lot of time,” Herta said. “In IMSA, guys start to push the cars hard in the last four hours of these big races. It’s different trying to conserve stuff, like the brakes, so that you can use them later. You want to conserve the cars and not slide the tires until that last bit.
“The last four hours of IMSA endurance races are just like an INDYCAR race, but up until that point, you have to remind yourself you don’t have to push for that extra three- or four-tenths.
“After that, it’s go time.”