RACING

Is Colton Herta F1’s next American star? IndyCar’s youngest race winner has his eyes on the future while savoring the present

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Just call it the curious case of Colton Herta.

This weekend marks the penultimate event of the 2022 IndyCar season and the final oval race of the year, at the egg-shaped World Wide Technology Raceway outside St. Louis. Saturday night’s real-time storyline will be the seven drivers separated by just 59 points as the championship trophy comes into view, particularly the battle between the 40s as leader Will Power battles to hold off summer resurgence Scott Dixon, who is seeking a record seventh title.

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But the eyes of the Formula 1 world, as they have throughout the season, will be focused on the kid who is nearly half his age and an insurmountable 135 points behind, ranked 10th after a few midsummer struggles and more than likely to be mathematically knocked out of the title fight this weekend.

None of this matters. Not to the F1 public. Not for the seemingly ever-growing US F1 audience. And certainly not to the even larger group of American companies looking to get their logo stamped on an F1 machine driven by an American driver.

Almost all of the above have already designated Herta as the driver. The chosen. He who will finally bring balance not to the Force, but to the forces of open-wheel racing.

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“All racers want to drive in F1, but my goal as a kid was to be where I am right now, in IndyCar, so I also try to stay in the moment, where I am,” said explained the 22-year-old. earlier this summer. “But I’m flattered, and who wouldn’t be?

He is, after all, the youngest driver to ever win an IndyCar race, which he did three years ago at the age of 18. He’s won six more races since, many at tracks with serious Formula 1 pedigree, from the Circuit of the Americas in Austin to Long Beach to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

He’s young. He’s slyly funny. He comes from a racing line, sired by father Bryan Herta, a member of the 1990s Champ Car “Rat Pack” with Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan. He plays drums in a rock band. He even has gorgeous hair.

“There are guys who create buzz for the wrong reasons, and then there are guys who create buzz for all the right reasons, and Colton is one of the good ones,” Andretti’s current teammate said. Autosport, Alexander Rossi, about Herta in May. “And to be clear, it’s not something that he released and promoted. On the contrary, he turned away from it. But this discussion still took place, and it’s a great indicator of his talent. .”

That’s why last month, when Herta did some laps in a 2021 McLaren in Portugal, rarely have so many people been so interested in a test session. It was the culmination of the buzz that had been building since he signed a development deal with the team in March, the most talked about driver among McLaren boss Zak’s endless 2022 shopping sprees. Brown, young signers – which includes high-profile activities from Alpine reserve driver Oscar Piastri and 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing.

It’s also why, as Herta strolled through the paddock during the Miami Grand Prix in May, he created as much buzz as most drivers actually taking part in the event, especially as boss Michael Andretti was visibly rushing into that same garage, soliciting signatures to add F1 to Andretti Autosport’s lineup. Meanwhile, Andretti’s father, Mario, proclaimed live on ESPN: “I so want to see what Colton could do here.”

The eldest Andretti is the only US-based racer to win an F1 world championship, as the child whose family moved to Pennsylvania when he was a teenager returned to Europe to race at age adult. He is still the last American driver to stand on an F1 podium, and that was 44 years ago. When Michael got his start on the show in 1993, it was a disaster, but a common story for American racers. After just one season, seven points scored and a feud with McLaren teammate Ayrton Senna, Andretti returned to IndyCar amid F1 chatter of “See? The Americans can’t cut here.”

No US-born racer has raced full-time in F1 since 2007, when Herta was 7 years old. No one has been behind an F1 wheel since Rossi completed part-time laps for the since-closed Marussia at the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 15, 2015, when 15-year-old Herta was racing through England in the whole new F4 series as a teammate of current McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris.

Norris recalled Herta’s F4 nickname “Hooligan Herta” due to a tendency to steer through the grass because he was so aggressive in corners. For the European set, this was seen as a dig at Herta’s capabilities. For Herta, he knew it was nothing more than a funny story of the time.

Yet his role in this summer’s silly F1 season drama off the charts, however unintended, is inevitable. It doesn’t take much search engine work to find stories pointing to Herta like the one that could push struggling Daniel Ricciardo out of his McLaren race to be reunited with Norris.

On Thursday, an Autosport column titled “The inconvenient truth about F1’s ‘American driver’ dream” sent the motorsport social media world into a frenzied brawl. Some said it was Herta time. Others said he had to line up behind another American, Williams signing and Lauderdale-born Ft. Logan Sargeant came through the ranks of the traditional European Formula Series. Some were quick to point out Herta’s disappointing IndyCar stats in 2022, numbers that would apparently hamper his ability to land an F1 superlicense. Others posted links to recordings of radio conversations between Colton in the car and his father, also his race strategist, and their notoriously pungent race arguments.

For the IndyCar crowd, these blood feuds have always been a source of entertainment. Last week, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin hosted Herta on their popular YouTube show “Bus Bros” and immediately began referring to her radio ranks with her dad as “lovely” and proof of how close their relationship is.

“That’s why we can talk to each other like we do on the radio,” Herta told the brothers. “And obviously if he wasn’t a good strategist, that wouldn’t happen. But he’s a good strategist.”

It handles it all with the same understated style. He must. Such “controversies” are just part of the gig, even a gig he doesn’t have yet.

“It’s flattering, and I guess it’s a compliment to have my name in the middle of these things because at the end of the day, I hope it means someone thinks I’m a good runner. “Herta said after the Portugal test. “Again, I’m still focused on what’s next, but I’m also still working to appreciate where I am now. If F1 never happens, or it takes a long time for it to happen, I never want this to stop me from enjoying the opportunities I have now. I’m young, and there’s still a lot that could happen in my life and career, wherever that may be. In this moment, it’s in IndyCar.

And IndyCar, the famously close community that it is, has no problem liking the chosen one while he’s still picking them. Just ask the Bus Bros, who jokingly asked Herta where he ranks among “the 180 drivers currently under contract” with Brown’s McLaren. As Herta navigated his response, McLaughlin cut him off and spoke for the entire IndyCar paddock.

“We don’t want you to leave us, to be honest.”

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