Their names are synonymous with success in different sports, racing and baseball, which makes for a unique marriage.
Colton Herta and George Michael Steinbrenner IV have been friends for years, which makes today’s announcement of a new Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires team a special day.
Herta, the 16-year-old son of retired racer and current Verizon IndyCar Series team co-owner Bryan Herta, will drive the No. 98 Andretti Steinbrenner Mazda in the 2017 Indy Lights season. Steinbrenner, the 20-year-old grandson of the late New York Yankees baseball owner of the same name, will be team co-owner with Michael Andretti of Andretti Autosport. Steinbrenner’s father, Hank, is part owner and co-chairman of the Yankees.
“Partnering with a name as iconic as Steinbrenner is really something I’m looking forward to,” Andretti said in a team release. “George Michael (Steinbrenner IV) has a great vision for his race team, just as his grandfather had for the Yankees.
“We are looking forward to having George Michael join us in our Indianapolis office in a very hands-on role with the team. I think together the partnership can continue to grow in motorsport, and it is only fitting that we begin by entering a car into the Mazda Road to Indy program with Indy Lights.”
The young Steinbrenner, from Tampa, Fla., worked with Bryan Herta’s team in the Red Bull Global RallyCross series last season. Steinbrenner grew up a racing fan. His stepfather, Sean Jones, is a RallyCross team co-owner with Herta. Jones’ late father, Chuck, had a lengthy racing career which included being a partner at Mo Nunn Ensign in Formula One from 1975-85.
Colton Herta and Steinbrenner aspire to one day race in the Verizon IndyCar Series, so Indy Lights is an ideal step.
“I’ve wanted to run an INDYCAR program for a long time. That’s the end goal,” Steinbrenner said Wednesday. “Colton is just starting to make waves in Europe and was going to come back and Andretti gave me this opportunity to come in and help run the program. I saw it as a can’t-lose situation. I’m very excited.”
Colton Herta will be the second-youngest driver in Indy Lights history. He was a 2013 Pacific Formula F1600 champion, finished third in the 2015 MSA Formula Championship with four wins, three poles and 12 podiums, had three wins and four poles in the 2016 EuroFormula Open campaign and one win and three podiums in the 2016 British Formula 3 championship.
After more than two years in England, the young Herta is eager to compete back in the U.S.
“Some of the junior categories over there are really strong,” he said. “It was awesome. We did 30 preseason test days, so it was two to three days a week at a racetrack. It was pretty cool. Now I’m ready to come home and race.”
Colton grew up in Santa Clarita, Calif., in Los Angeles County. He was always drawn to racing, an affinity that was to be expected considering his dad won four races in 179 Indy car starts from 1994-2006, including his final four full seasons for Andretti Green Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Bryan started five Indianapolis 500s, finishing fourth in 2004 and third in 2005.
As a team owner, Bryan Herta celebrated Indy 500 victories in 2011 with the late Dan Wheldon and this year with rookie Alexander Rossi in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The most recent victory was as a co-owner with Andretti Autosport and Curb-Agajanian.
Steinbrenner's friendship with Bryan eventually extended to Colton. Steinbrenner watched Colton Herta race in the 2014 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, the beginning level of the three-tier Mazda Road to Indy developmental ladder that tops out at Indy Lights.
"I was at every race," Steinbrenner said of 2014. "We grew a connection as friends."
Now the friends are ecstatic about the opportunity to work together.
“There’s no real pressure,” Colton Herta said. “Obviously I want to win. The guys that run in Indy Lights are obviously good. We’ll just see how it goes. We’ve shown good speed in testing, so I’m pretty confident, but you never really know until you’re at St. Pete (for the 2017 season opener in March).”
Colton Herta will be the fourth Andretti Autosport driver in Indy Lights in 2017. He joins Dalton Kellett (No. 28 K-Line Insulators Mazda), Nico Jamin (No. 27 Synova Mazda) and Ryan Norman (No. 48 Flip Side Mazda).
“Colton set out at a young age to create his own path in racing, and I’m really pleased to see that path bring him here to Andretti Autosport,” Andretti said. “Through our Indy Lights program, we are dedicated to developing future INDYCAR drivers, and Colton has shown that he is both determined and talented enough to reach the Verizon IndyCar Series. We’re excited to be a part of his continued development.”