The Safari Effect
Colton Herta won the NTT Indycar Series’ race at the Circuit of the Americas on March 24, thereby putting himself in the record books not only for the victory, his first in an Indycar and the first Indycar race run at the splashy Texas facility, but also for becoming the youngest driver ever to win in an Indycar, just days ahead of his 19th birthday.
Around the office we joked that his win was the result of “the Safari Effect,” since here at CarShowSafari.com we ran just a single story in advance of the 2019 Indycar season, an interview with former Indycar champion and two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser, Jr., now a consultant for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, the team for which Herta drives.
But we’re joking because we know that reflected glory is meaningless. There is no question that Herta’s success is due to him and his team and that there is no karma connected to us. First, at COTA the team rebounded from potential disaster by replacing an engine that blew during the first practice session. Then, Herta qualified in fourth place, despite missing the second practice session and getting back on track only for the pre-qualifying warmup. In the race itself, Herta stayed with the leaders all day and made no mistakes.
Yes, the race was dominated by Team Penske’s Will Power, and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi hounded Power throughout, but veteran racers will always tell you that to win you must first put yourself in position to win, and Herta did that. Herta was in a position to take over first place late in the race when the race’s only caution period caught Power and Rossi needing to make pit stops under the yellow flag.
That Power’s car broke while pitting certainly added to the drama but not to the result: On the restart, Herta pulled away from prior series champion Josef Newgarden and scored a convincing victory.
Unser told us in that earlier interview that he and the team were “expecting great things” in 2019, and it did not take long for the expectations to bear fruit. Herta had recorded series-leading laps times in a series-sanctioned test session several weeks ago, and now he has climbed to the top of the podium in only his second race with the team.
At the time of our earlier interview with Unser, series rookie Pato O’Ward was still a part of a planned two-car effort, but sponsorship shortfalls made it necessary for O’Ward to be released from his contract and freed to look for other opportunities prior to the first race of the year. Unser had described Herta and O’Ward as being “the top two, the best young talent out there,” and his assessment is proving to be correct. Not only did Herta win at COTA, but in the same race O’Ward, driving for the UK-based Carlin team on a part-time basis, qualified well and ran an exciting race, recording an eighth-place finish in what was only the second Indycar race of his career.
We’ll catch up with Unser again later this year. For now, we’ll be watching what is shaping up to be a very interesting Indycar season.
Photo courtesy Harding Steinbrenner Racing