Rookie Colton Herta looks to get back on track in familial territory
Detroit — Colton Herta has made a name for himself during his rookie year in the IndyCar Series.
Herta became the youngest driver in series history to win a race when he won the inaugural IndyCar Classic held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, back in March at age 18.
Herta is the son of Warren native Bryan Herta, who won two races as a driver for Team Rahal in the late 1990s then went on to become a two-time Indy 500 winner as a car owner.
Herta is coming off a disappointing 33rd place finish in the Indy 500 last weekend when he experienced an early mechanical problem that ended his day. He has had several DNFs (did not finish) since his win in Austin.
Herta was happy to be back on the track Friday morning in practice on the 2.3-mile street course on Belle Isle to prepare for this weekend’s Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader, which will feature 70-lap races run on Saturday and Sunday.
Herta was fast on his first time on Belle Isle, finishing sixth fastest in the 22-car field in the morning practice session with a time of 1:17.22 (109.550 mph) with defending race champion and defending series champion Scott Dixon topping the charts at 110.240 mph.
Herta returned to finish 13th in the afternoon practice session (110.449 mph) with Indy 500 runner-up Alexander Rossi topping the charts (112.595).
“It’s different, we finally get to turn right,” Herta said of the Belle Isle street course after weeks of oval driving at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I always prefer street circuits and road courses over ovals, especially street circuits like this and Toronto which have a lot of character, so it’s a lot of fun to be here.
“It’s (Belle Isle) definitely bumpy. I’m going to need some dentures after this weekend. Teeth are going to be chattering. It’s really unique, probably the toughest place we go to on equipment. It’s real easy to slap the wall here. It’s real easy to get it wrong. It’s super bumpy and then 140 laps theoretically, 70 laps (race) on each day. It’s a lot of racing so it will definitely tear the car apart and we’ll have to rebuild it after this.”
No doubt, it’s a family reunion of sorts for Herta.
“My father’s side, he grew up just north of here, probably 20 minutes and we still have a lot of family from here,” Herta said. “He loves it here and it’s like a second home race for me because I have a lot of family here as well.”
Herta, who grew up in California, said he didn’t get in the simulator earlier this week to prepare for racing on Belle Isle. He just jumped into his No. 88 Honda to get a feel for the 13-turn track.
Herta said it felt good to get back in the car after his disappointing Indy 500.
“That’s the best thing is to drive (again),” Herta said. “When you had a bad weekend, it’s hard to forget it until you have to focus on the next weekend, which makes it a lot easier. We have two back-to-back weekends here, Texas after this one, and I love it, just racing every weekend. If we could just race every weekend, 52 weekends out of the year, it would be perfect.”
Rossi puts 500 in rearview
After finishing a close second to Simon Pagenaud in the Indy 500, Rossi was the fastest in practice with a lap of 112.595 mph.
Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden was second (111.810 mph), followed by defending series champion and defending Race 1 winner Scott Dixon (111.635), Team Penske driver Will Power (111.505), Graham Rahal (111.205) and defending Race 2 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (111.029), Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammate.
Rossi won the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2016 and looked to be a two-time champ Sunday before Pagenaud overtook him with less than two laps remaining and held on for the win.
“I’m over it,” Rossi said of the disappointing finish. “The past is behind us and we’re focused on Detroit and trying to maximize the weekend here. From a points perspective, it’s just as important as the 500.
“When I first came here it was quite a shock from all the other street tracks that we come to. It’s definitely a unique place. You have to learn to like the bumps and try to figure out ways to get around them.”
When asked if Rossi watched a replay of Sunday’s 500, he replied: “No. I’m over it. I was there. I roughly know what happened.”
Emerson Fittipaldi gave Roger Penske one of his 18 Indy 500 victories back in 1993, but his most dramatic Indy 500 win came in 1989.
Fittipaldi, then competing for Jackson businessman Pat Patrick, led 158 of 200 laps but had to overtake Al Unser Jr. on the next-to-final lap to win it.
Fittipaldi went on the next week to win the Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of Detroit, then won again on the downtown streets in 1991, the year before the race moved on to Belle Isle.
Fittipaldi never won on Belle Isle, but finished second in 1994 when he finished second in the points chase.
“It’s great to be here,” the 72-year-old Fittipaldi said. “I was invited to be here with the 30th anniversary of the Detroit Grand Prix. I won downtown. It was very bumpy. Most of the corners were 90-degree corners, difficult to set up the car, the compromise between grip and bumpy, but I liked downtown and I like it here. Detroit has the history of the car industry and has to have a Grand Prix here.”
Detroit Grand Prix highlights
8 a.m. — Gates open
9:15 a.m. — Trans Am Series Race 1
10:45 a.m. — NTT IndyCar Series Race 1 qualifying
11:45 a.m. — IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship open grid fan walk (pit lane)
12:30 p.m. — IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Race
12:45 p.m. — NTT IndyCar Series drivers autograph session (Firestone Fan Village within Meijer Fan Zone)
3:30 p.m. — NTT IndyCar Series Race 1
6 p.m. — Frankie Ballard concert (Entertainment Stage within Meijer Fan Zone)
8 a.m. — Gates open
10 a.m. — Trans Am Series drivers autograph session (Heritage Exhibit Tent)
10:45 a.m. — NTT IndyCar Series Race 2 qualifying
11:45 a.m. — Trans Am Series Race 2
1 p.m. — Stone Temple Pilots concert (Entertainment Stage within Meijer Fan Zone)
2 p.m. — 30th Detroit Grand Prix celebration activities
3:30 p.m. — NTT IndyCar Series Race 2