Youngest driver to win an IndyCar race
Colton Herta is the youngest driver ever to win an IndyCar race, at just 19 years old taking victory at the Circuit of the Americas with Harding Steinbrenner Racing.
Herta started his career in junior single seaters racing in the USF200 championship, before switching to Europe to race in BRDC F3 and the F3 Masters race at Zandvoort.
After a successful few seasons, Herta returned to the US to compete in the Road to Indy series Indy Lights, where he took four wins and 13 podiums to finish as runner up in 2018.
Alongside his commitments in IndyCar, Herta also races for BMW Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the IMSA SportsCar Championship. He took a class win for the team in this years Daytona 24 hours.
Colton Herta answers your questions!
I’m 13 years old and I’m looking for some guidance to start my career. I’m guessing you started in go-karts, how did you convince a sponsor to help you at junior level?
Hey Luis, the biggest appeal you can make to a sponsor at that age and level of racing is the pathos appeal. Understanding the sponsors company and getting on the sponsor’s soft side. If they like you and believe in you, they will want to support you just for the fact that they want to see you get to the next level!
Where would you say is a great place for someone to start racing and learning the skills involved to run in IndyCar?
With no racing experience go-karting. Get out to a proper race track and do some rental karting to see if it’s for you! From that point, it starts becoming a big investment in buying a kart and all accessories needed to race! If that goes well and you’ve been karting and winning I’d move to some lower ladder formula cars. Formula Fords are the purest cars you can get into right out of karts. No downforce and low horsepower so all related to momentum, this gives you an understanding of how a car reacts. From there you’d hop on the Mazda Road to Indy!
I’ve been karting for 15 years now and participate in a few endurance races every year, mainly 6hr events. I’ve noticed I’ve been struggling mid-race on with forearm fatigue. Do you have any exercises you recommend that could help in this area?
Get a bar bell and hold it the opposite way of doing a normal bicep curl. Raise it like you’re doing a bicep curl. Three seconds up three seconds down, I use this in the offseason whenever I’m going into bigger cars next year. It burns!!!!
As you were coming up into IndyCar, how were you able to balance your schooling and Racing in order to succeed in both?
I did my schooling online for most of high school, I think you have to do it this way. I was never Einstein and never planned on going to college, but I always thought it was important to get my High School diploma. The travelling makes it difficult but if you really want to make a career out of racing its worth it.
How do you feel that your previous racing in Europe has helped your North American driving career?
Massively, I think in learned how to drive a race car properly in Europe. In my season of British F4 we did 30 races and 25 test days, it would start to feel weird if you weren’t in the car every three days or so. This repetition gave me the ability to adapt and learn very quickly. I had actually done more days in a race car in my two years of racing in Europe than my Dad had before his first IndyCar race!
Coming into Indy 500 – a distance you have never driven – what special prep do you do?
Not much outside of May! The physical aspect of that track is very low so where you struggle is the mental side of things. Everyone will be watching the races from the previous 5 years and seeing how the draft works and what the pit windows and tire drop off are like. Outside of this all the prep is done in May in the car going through test items!
How do you improve on your sense of space and surroundings as a race car driver? Any tips/exercises?
The biggest way I do this is by pushing it. If you’re in a new car and lack a sense of the width and length of the car you have to push it and drop wheels lock up, even if you end up in the wall these are normal things and you shouldn’t feel ashamed of it. Of course don’t make a habit, but to find the true limit and length you have to go over it sometimes! As far as exercises I don’t do anything specific for this as I’ve never struggled with it beyond the first day in a new car.
How can drivers provide significant value to sponsors?
It goes a lot deeper than slapping a sticker on a car. Business-to-business is the best way to attract a sponsor, this is where you might have a contact with somebody at lets say UPS (postal service), but you also know another company that makes foam peanuts for packaging. If you get these two companies to work together and get 15% of any deals in the contract it can be good money, plus it leaves you with a very happy sponsor and someone who’s intrigued to work with you in the future as you’ve brought them profit.
How does racing sportscars compare to racing in single seaters? Are there similar compromises when it comes to setup?
They are very similar in some ways and completely different in others. The driving side of it will be quite a bit different, for the sports car it’s a lot heavier and a lot less downforce than the IndyCar. For the sportscar it takes a lot of trail braking into the corner to keep it on the nose as the Indycar you want to roll the speed and use that downforce to carry the car through the corner. For setup there are similarities and also some stuff that couldn’t be further from each other. Such as springs diff damping etc. because the IndyCar would supply power at a different rate and the loads on the car would be quite different. Much like a lot of engines nowadays they both are turbocharged V blocks and actually lay down power pretty consistent with each other.
Congratulations on that first win – and being a SAFEisFAST online instructor. I remember your dad being in several videos and am curious if you watched the SAFEisFAST videos as you were coming up through the ranks. If so, which ones do you think would most helpful for someone just beginning their racing career?
I actually did watch a lot of these videos and most were shown to me by my Dad! The ones that stick out to me are the art of driving in the rain and passing and also how important it is to build a strong driver engineer bond!