INDIANAPOLIS – The month of May has been good to Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires phenom Colton Herta.
The 18-year-old captured the 16th annual Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in thrilling fashion on Friday. Herta edged teammate Patricio O’Ward by 0.0281 of a second in the fastest Freedom 100 in history, at an average speed of 191.422 mph.
Herta, pilot of the No. 98 Mazda/Dallara IL-15 for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, made the winning move by sneaking under O’Ward (No. 27 Andretti Autosport) coming out of Turn 4 as they took the white flag for the last of 40 laps on the 2.5-mile oval. Despite constant pressure from behind, Herta held off a host of challengers led by O’Ward.
With the win, Herta completed the sweep of Indy Lights wins at IMS this month. He won both road-course races during the INDYCAR Grand Prix weekend May 11-12.
“It was tough,” Herta said of the Freedom 100 triumph. “In beginning, the tires were cold and it was easy to follow. So I made my moves then. I learned quite early on that if you’re third or fourth back, it was going to be tough for you to overtake, especially if the first two can go right by each other and block you, give you the dirty air.
“Managing that was tough and getting into a good position right at the end was tough, but (I) just managed to do it. I passed (O’Ward), I didn’t even know it was the white flag until I pulled out and the guy was waving the white flag. So I passed him on the last lap and held it.”
The victory ceremony also provided Herta the chance to kiss the famous yard of bricks at the start/finish line.
“Well, funny enough, the bricks taste like brick,” laughed Herta, who now owns five career Indy Lights wins in his second season. “It was cool. It was a little brick with rubber and it wasn’t a great taste, but it was a nostalgic taste.”
Andretti Autosport swept the podium. Pole sitter Dalton Kellett led the most laps (17) and nabbed his third consecutive third-place finish in the 100-mile event. Kellett is still searching for his first win in the top step of the INDYCAR-sanctioned Mazda Road to Indy ladder.
“Am I sad that we didn’t win? Sure, but I think at the end of the day, we did a great job all week,” Kellett said. “The Andretti guys really dialed the No. 28 K-Line car in. We rolled off the truck fast and put it on pole, so that’s a victory in itself.
“With the race, it was so close. We were there at the end. I wasn’t really thinking about finishing third, I was just thinking about trying to go for the win in those last couple laps, but it didn’t happen. Congrats to Colton and the team for the 1-2-3.”
The race also set new standards for most leaders (five) and lead changes (20).
The championship picture remains murky after seven races. Herta holds a slim four-point advantage over O’Ward. Belardi Auto Racing’s Santiago Urrutia, who finished fourth in the race, is 16 points out of the points lead in third place. Indy Lights returns to action in a doubleheader weekend at Road America in Wisconsin from June 22-24.