(Colton Herta - Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg - By: Chris Owens)
"It could make your day or ruin your race to go into those turns. The teams are so close. This is a race in the hardest championship in the world because it is so competitive.," Colton Herta, the reigning Indy GP champ, told media at a Thursday NTT press event.
Herta was talking about his favorite section on the Indy GP course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and added:
"Before NASCAR came. I really liked [turn] eight, nine, ten, but because NASCAR came in and placed big concrete blocks on the inside of the curve, we can't really take as much curb anymore. So it's kind of killing that section for us. But this race is one of the last places where the red tires are the best. It's a very fast face. No fuel saving ever. It's just a flat-out race, which is so enjoyable. I wouldn't say there's one particular section of the track that I love more than the other, but it's just a great track to have a race," Herta said, adding more about last year's race:
" it was an interesting race, with a lot going on, switching strategies almost the whole time," Herta said.
It is important to note that he was working with a top strategist - his Dad, Bryan Herta a former IndyCar driver.
One reporter described younger Herta as both being young in age at 23 and yet a Veteran of motorsports. That makes a lot of sense when thinking about his approach to racing hard, yet also having some mature handling skills.
One thing we know about Colton Herta, as soft-spoken and linear as he is in interviews, his spirit is wild for racing fast and unrestricted. His eyes light up a bit more, talking about 'flat our racing.'
Who among us doesn't appreciate a racer who wants to push all of the limits? I know I do.
Herta was not kidding about the action in last year's Indy GP. Dave Furst, the Vice President of Communications for NTT IndyCar, started the interview out with some stats about last year's GP:
"The month of May begins this week Saturday's Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. And with last year's rain, it was a crazy race with six different leaders, ten lead changes, and all sorts of action. Colton Herta picked up his seventh career entry Indycar Series win a year ago- and is the driver of the number 26 Cambridge Honda."
During the press event, Herta talked a little bit about growing up around the IMS with his Dad. He told the press some of his thoughts about racing in general. He described some of his emotions about his position as a driver, which is a thrilling insight for most of the media, who are also themselves race fans and likely dreamed of being a race car driver one day too.
Herta talked about how he remembered specific events in different races by recalling the physical sensations happening to him at the time- like what his body felt like during the riveting 'save' of last year's Indy GP when he slid through turn seven and with incredible handwork, he kept his car in the race and ended up winning.
When asked what he remembered about his historic "save' from the 2022 Indy GP, Herta answered so honestly and so purely from the heart of a flat-out racer:
"I remember exactly how everything felt when it happened; we (racers) feel everything through our butts; I can feel that same feeling in my but right now, which is so interesting- and not to be weird talking about butts.
I still have that same feeling I can feel that emotion, which I've never been able to feel in any moment of my career before, and I remember it so well. So clearly, it was something that I don't think I'll ever forget.
Obviously, we've all seen footage of the save a whole bunch of times now and I hope I don't have to replicate it again because it definitely wasn't the fastest way to go to that corner. But yeah, it happened, it was interesting. "
Herta described more when Furst asked, "Were you completely off the throttle at that point? Or did you try to stay in it? Do you remember that part of it?"
Look at his answer- it was a mixture.
" It was a little bit of both. Both I was using the brake and the throttle to balance the car kind of, you know, we talked about cars, cannot of pendulums, and you hit the brakes, the front moves forward, and the rear goes up and gets light and hit the throttle. Puts a little bit more weight on the back. So yeah, it was kind of a little bit of slope work. Obviously, it takes a lot of hand work mostly and also, of course, a little bit of luck.," Herta answered.
It was the save that everyone will remember for a very long time.
So between the incredible driving skills and save the brilliant strategy, father and son won; what a race! Of course, life isn't all that easy, even for top champions.
2023 is a new year, and now there are some growing pains for the Herta family, both for Herta, the racer, and Herta, the strategist. Herta Sr. now works with Kyle Kirkwood, who had his first IndyCar career win this year at the Long Beach Grand Prix.
After Kirkwook's win, which was a win for Dad Herta, he said that his son Colton would always be number one in his heart, but he was excited to have assisted on young Kirkwood's first victory.
What else could he really say? it was a thrilling win for champion Kirkwood. These are all top competitors in racing.
Both Herta men have remained dignified for the cameras- about the switch up, but some media reports have shown there was growing tension between the two racers, and team Andretti felt it was best to make a switch up. Dad Herta had made a statement during the 2022 season that sometimes, his son just wanted to go out faster than what he would recommend.
I remember thinking, then, that Herta Sr. described the pain of being a parent, both loving your child and wanting them to succeed- and wanting them to listen to wisdom- in one statement! Raising your kids is a mixture of good times and hard.
Who can't relate to this parent-and-child dilemma? I know I can.
Let's remember the Herta family is dealing with that stain on their relationship at speeds of up to 230 miles per hour.
Racers and their families are people who have to overcome the same challenges that most of us do- and this is what they have to work through as they compete for top honors in racing, which takes an intense focus.
To exploit this conflict in the Herta family is childish, but, notably, real life is something our champions must tackle, just like the rest of us.
And sometimes, they- like all of us crash.
When asked on Tuesday if it was hard mentally to recover from the downside of racing, Colton Herta was asked about his horrible crash at Indy just a few weeks after his brilliant "save" and victory:
"You had a massive crash. Is it hard as a driver to recover mentally from that, you know, to get back into the car? And, you know, when you close your visor, you're flat out again?" one reporter asked Herta on Tuesday.
"It's fairly easy, at least for me, you know, when you love something so much. It's hard to forget that or let something deter you or drag you away from it. So, for me, it is something that happens here standing in the sport. And we know the risk. I was perfectly fine after the crash to get right back in the car, so it didn't affect me too much."
So, IndyCar is not without its drama and human interest, proving that Motorsports is about real people with real-life relationships and situations who get together as teams and racers to run challenging events for crowds who love to watch their competitions.
And all of us -as fans- walk away from these races with different levels of introspection about what we have just watched.
One thing remains consistent, through our ups and downs as fans, these drivers and teams are doing something very taxing, demanding, and difficult, and they are driven by the same love of racing that we all are, but they are the ones in the arena.
And we are the ones watching them in the arena.
Not everyone is honoring that aspect, as all sporting events have their hecklers who don't understand their human connections to race teams and drivers.
Really we all have to face people who don't want to see us succeed.
There are people who don't understand that they are watching champions compete at the top levels of their sports, reaching past the same problems we all have to stay focused on driving extremely fast cars with the highest level of aptitude and skill.
We should be honored to be watching regular people strive so hard for greatness. Some people just blow past that.
Here is an example: Look at Champion Scott McLaughlin, the winner of the most recent IndyCar race, the Alabama Grand Prix, who saw a heckler as an opportunity to be a winner in life, he just flips this dirty deed around :
Imagine being a person who 'Boos' and revels in the losses of the brave men and women who get into the arena of life. Haven't we all been here before:
There is a lot more to racing than just hopping into a car and driving fast- and the details of the racers' mindset and understanding of the technical challenges they face to reach their victory make Motorsports that much more hair-raising.
The course for the next IndyCar race, this Saturday at 3:30 Eastern time, is a mixture of an oval and road course. Mixtures are interesting and challenging. Colton Herta is the reigning champ, having won what he described as the "hardest race he has ever raced' last year because of changing weather conditions and strategies- and he won that race with his Dad.
They are both in the arena.
2023 is different because both racing champs are trying out something different while working for the same team - while the whole world watches.
That is AS hair-raising- as anything else at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway...
This year's Indy GP will be a highly anticipated race on the road to the historic Indy 500.
Here is some of our other coverage of this Saturday's Indy GP:
Race on, race fans, and never stop appreciating those brave souls who teach us valuable life lessons as they get into those cars and do what they love.
Notice that they also tell us how they are feeling- so we are along for the ride. It is incredible that they allow themselves to be scrutinized while they risk having their 'dirty laundry' splashed in the headlines as some of the bravest competitors in sports history in the entire world.