ST. PETERSBURG, Fla - Colton Herta is attempting to finish with a flourish for the second year in a row in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Last season, Herta dominated the final race of the season when he won the pole and blew away the field at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca for his second career victory.
This year, the season’s final race is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Herta came close to winning the pole Saturday and has one of the fastest cars in the field on the streets of St. Pete.
Herta’s No. 88 Capstone Turbine #ShiftToGreen Honda for Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Racing will line up third on the grid Sunday after a best lap of 1 minute, 1.1815 seconds during the Firestone Fast Six around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit.
Herta missed the front row when Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi ran a fast time of 1:01.1730 to qualify second in the No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda.
Will Power won the pole at St. Pete for the ninth time in his career with a lap of 1:01.0369 in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet for Team Penske.
“I’m pretty frustrated to lose it by that much,” Herta said after qualifying. “The Capstone #ShiftToGreen Honda definitely was the car to do it. We’ll look forward to tomorrow. We’re going to try some stuff in warm-up and go from there.”
Herta, 20, still has a tremendous opportunity to win the final race of the season for the second straight year in Sunday’s race (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network). He is one of the hottest drivers in the series over the last three races, including a win in the second race of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Sept. 13, a fourth place in the first race of the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR on Oct. 2 and a second-place finish in the second race Oct. 3.
A fast finish to the season will set up Herta perfectly for a championship run in 2021.
“It seems like we are very good at the end of the year,” Herta said. “It’s always tough going into a race weekend seeing how fast you are going to be. Going off the pace we had last year, it seems very promising.
“I’m not sure why I finish the season strong at the end of the year. We were very consistent at the beginning, but it seems like a trend the last two years that we finish the season strong. I would like to continue that this weekend. I would like to be on the podium. The goal is to win, but if we can finish on the podium, that would be awesome.”
Herta is third in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship in just his second season in the series. Could that make him one of the leading championship contenders for 2021?
“It’s like a good jump up,” Herta said. “We finished seventh last year and jumped up four spots this year. If we can improve three positions next year, then we win the championship.
“It’s hard to say because INDYCAR is so competitive right now. The experienced guys say it’s some of the most competitive racing they have had in their career. When you put that into perspective, it’s hard to win a championship because there are so many guys that can do it.
“We have the speed; we have the team. If we did some things different this year, we could have been in the championship hunt. Who is to say we can’t do it next year?”
Back in March, when the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg first was supposed to take place, Herta’s team transporter caught fire just 9 miles from the racecourse after the long drive from Indianapolis.
He thought that was going to be the biggest drama of that weekend. But just two days later, the race was postponed because of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s crazy to think that was this year,” Herta said of the transporter fire that damaged his race car. “I had completely forgotten about that. It seemed so long ago that, that happened.
“We started off 2020 the worst. We had a burned-down trailer and a burned-up car, and we didn’t even get to race.”
Herta’s car may have started off the season on fire, but he is prepared to end the season as the hottest driver in INDYCAR.
That could make him an early favorite for the 2021 championship.
“It confirms what I wanted to do last year by finishing more consistent,” Herta said. “To finish with a win and third in points confirms that.
“It would set us up for a championship year in year three. We need a few wins and a lot of podiums.”