Colton Herta

TORONTO -- Colton Herta definitely knows how hard the tight and twisty Honda Indy Toronto street circuit can bite.

The concrete walls made the No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda driver's visit to Toronto in Indy Lights became an experience in pain last year after the first of three crashes into the barriers caused a hairline fracture of his left thumb and left him in pain for weeks.

“It was a little bit of a weird accident,” Herta said.

“Something happened with the gearbox and chucked it into neutral which kind of slid out the rear and I didn't get my hands off the wheel in time. That's what broke my thumb.”

The accident-filled weekend saw Herta need to nurse an injured hand for several weeks and lose the points lead to his teammate Patricio O’Ward, who went on to win four of the last five Indy Lights races and take the title. In the end, finishing as runner-up didn't stop the young driver from signing with Harding Steinbrenner Racing for the 2019 season and being a star of the season so far.

Although this weekend’s return to Toronto and its highly technical street circuit might conjure memories of his aching thumb, Herta is convinced that the experience he gained racing in Indy Lights gave him a leg up as he tested his meddle in the NTT IndyCar Series

“I think it definitely helps being at the track previously and with the way the Indy Lights car drove it's actually quite similar,” Herta said.

“I think the braking and the overall feel of the car isn't too far off so it definitely makes it easier to adapt and also having the track knowledge as well from previous years helps a lot. It's helpful to have the general feel of the track, especially on street circuits because you know where the bumps are and there are some weird lines that are kind of unnatural sometimes that wouldn't think are fast if you hadn't been there before.”

Another plus is the confidence Herta gained from showing good speed in Toronto after taking a pole in Indy Lights and racing well there in the 2017 U.S. F2000 National Championship. In the end, every bit of experience helps when move to the big series.

Several mechanical issues have kept Herta from achieving better results, but when things go right he has excelled.

Earlier this season, Herta became the youngest winner in INDYCAR history when he took the checkered flag in the second race of the season at the Circuit of the Americas. Last month, he eclipsed the mark for the series youngest polesitter when he led the field to green at Road America.

Although preparation and experience on the track helps, Herta insisted that watching the Indy cars in action on track in 2018 also went a long way in helping him learn what to do and what not to do in Toronto.

“It does tend to be quite a messy race for everyone and it's definitely a tough track and it's quite a long, abusing race so fatigue plays a role too,” he said. “Last year, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, and Spencer Pigot hit the wall and a lot of guys ran into other trouble. You have to be careful there in the race and choose your passes wisely, so you aren't getting caught up in a wreck. It's definitely a tough place.”