Colton Herta

Colton Herta is an INDYCAR star, but the top-performing driver this season at Andretti Autosport is too young to rent a car.

At 20, he must have his father, Bryan, sign for the rental cars because he is under the age limit for most car rental companies.

“Technically, he is not in a position to rent a car, yet he has a license to drive one 230-plus miles an hour at Indianapolis,” said Herta’s race strategist, Brian Barnhart. “You would think he could rent a car.

“It’s funny to see that.”

The kid knows how to drive an Indy car. He is fourth in the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES standings with just three races remaining and has had a remarkably consistent season for Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport.

What is most impressive is Herta, in just his second season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, is the leading full-time driver for team owner Michael Andretti’s racing operation. That includes 2012 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Alexander Rossi, and INDYCAR race winner Marco Andretti.

Herta is quiet and thoughtful and points out that his teammates have suffered a variety of issues in other races on the schedule that have dropped them in the standings.

But the facts remain that Herta’s victory in Race 2 of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Sept. 13 was the first win for an Andretti Autosport driver this season.

“We have been very quick everywhere we have gone and relative to the teammates, we are always right there, if not the fastest Andretti teammate, very close to it,” Herta said. “We always have a really nice race package.”

Nine of Herta’s 11 finishes this season have been in the top 10 with five in the top five. It was the July trip to Iowa Speedway that was the only blemish on Herta’s 2020 results sheet. He was involved in a spectacular crash on a waved-off restart and ran into the back of Rinus VeeKay’s Chevrolet, sending Herta’s car airborne. Herta finished 20th in that contest and 19th the following night after the car had been repaired.

“With it being an oval, doubleheader event, if you tear one up, it’s a real challenge to get it put back together and it’s hard to find out for sure if everything is back to where it needs to be,” Barnhart said. “I think the team did a great job getting it put back together. They didn’t find anything, but in the second race it seemed something was off, and they didn’t fully understand why. That was a double hit. The crash in the first race put us behind for the second race, too. Both of those events were the only two where we haven’t been a consistent top-five car. That consistency pays off in the long run.

“At Mid-Ohio. We got to the top step of the podium and hopefully more to come.”

With three races to go starting with the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR on Oct. 2-3 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and wrapping up with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Oct. 25, Herta is ready to finish the season with a flourish. He trails second place Josef Newgarden by 57 points and third place Pato O’Ward by 11 points.

“That’s the plan,” Herta said. “St. Pete was good for me last year, pace-wise. It was a good start to the year for me. Obviously, Indy GP was really good. We are looking to end the year on a high note. I’m looking forward to that. We’re trying to do what we’ve done all season, consistently be in that top-five range.

“Hopefully, we can get some podiums, maybe another win or two. Going to go for second in the championship would be the best outcome. I know Josef Newgarden is pretty far away, but if we have three good races here, it’s still pretty wide open.”

Herta began his career at Harding Steinbrenner Racing with an engineering alliance for Andretti Technologies in 2019. Two wins and three poles in his rookie season were enough for Andretti Autosport to bring the team over to the main operation for 2020.

“It’s been a nice first year for me at Andretti,” Herta said. “I enjoy working with all the drivers there. I would love to continue for a long time with Andretti. It seems they will be competitive for a long time. That’s always nice.

“They are all terrific drivers, too. It’s nice when you have a team like that that always pushes you, each and every driver. You can go back and look at every guy’s data. There is never really a point where you are not learning something, whether it’s five or six corners, or one little thing where they are faster from you. You are always learning from them parts they are doing that maybe you can do better.”

Herta is leading the Andretti pack on the track, but this group of characters also has fun off the track. He has made the most of both situations.

“It’s always fun when you are teammates, but also friends off the track, too,” Herta said. “It builds camaraderie. You push each other a lot more on the track and want to help each other that much more so the whole team can be successful. I always enjoy hanging out with them. They are cool guys. To be their teammate is awesome, and I enjoy hanging out with all of them.”

Herta also pulled off one of the greatest off-track pranks of the season before this year’s 104th Indianapolis 500. He led a mysterious covert operation to take the wheels off teammate Rossi’s golf cart in the driver/owner motorhome lot and stack them on top of Rossi’s motorhome while he was away.

He nearly pulled it off without being fingered for the prank before a mysterious photo began to make the rounds on social media of young Herta standing on top of the motorhome to celebrate his successful prank.

But, after pulling it off so successfully, does Herta have to look over his shoulder as the next target for payback from Rossi?

“For sure, but I don’t have too much to worry about because I still stay in my Dad’s motorhome,” Herta said of his father, an ownership partner in Andretti Autosport. “There isn’t anything he’s going to do to that motorhome.

“I’ve mapped out what he could do. Maybe he could do something to my scooter, but that is pretty much all he could do. I don’t think he would go for another golf cart thing because that has always been done.

“And, I live in Southern California, so he would have to make a special trip to come out here to do anything.”

On the track or with a prank, this kid has found a way to stay ahead of his teammates at Andretti Autosport.