Story Credit: Jared DePouw
Photo Credit: INDYCAR Photo
They say first impressions are everything, and the first impression of the NTT IndyCar Series at Circuit of the Americas has been nothing but positive. All the anticipation and build up to the INDYCAR Classic surrounded comparisons to Formula One, and despite lap times fifteen seconds slower than F1, 18-year old rookie Colton Herta became the youngest INDYCAR race winner in history.
With everyone wondering how clean the race would start, all 24 drivers made it incident-free through Turn 1. However, the opening lap would see an incident involving Zach Veach who would spin in Turn 4 and damage his steering after running off a curb through grass & gravel.
The first half of the race went by rather quickly, with polesitter Will Power leading every lap except during pit stop cycles. Excellent battles throughout the pack made for an exciting race, with lots of cars bumping & grinding as track limits were intentionally not enforced by Race Control.
The only full course caution of the race would come on Lap 44 when Felix Rosenqvist and James Hinchcliffe made contact in Turn 19, sending Rosenqvist into the wall on the approach to pit lane.
Leaders under caution on Lap 44:
- 12-Power Last Pitted on Lap 28
- 27-Rossi Last Pitted on Lap 28
- 9-Dixon Last Pitted on Lap 27
- 88-Herta Pitted on Lap 43
- 2-Newgarden Pitted on Lap 43
Part of the INDYCAR rulebook is to immediately close the pits under full course caution. This is a big source of contention amongst drivers, specifically because not pitting before caution guarantees sending a driver to the back of the pack. In this instance, the Top 3 drivers at the time all were forced to the back due to pitting under caution versus 4th and 5th place which had pitted one lap before the caution came out.
With the leaders having to pit under caution, that allowed Herta to take the lead. In fact, polesitter Power would suffer a mechanical issue pulling out of his pit stall, dashing his hopes of earning the $100,000 bonus for winning the race from pole.
The ensuing restart on Lap 50 would see Herta pull away from series champions Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay, with Herta knowing he only had one lap before the other drivers could use their substantial advantage in Push-2-Pass time remaining.
“What do I do? I’ve never done a restart on reds, so that was a new thing for me,” said Herta. “I think we had good pace early on and faded at the end of the stints. With only 10 laps to go and no wear on the tires we were in a really good place.”
It would only take two laps for Herta to put a 2.5673 second gap between him and second place Newgarden. From there Herta would maintain pace and win by 2.7182 seconds over Newgarden and Hunter-Reay for the first All-American INDYCAR podium since 2015.