Colton Herta

MONTEREY, Calif. -- There were some pretty high expectations for Colton Herta when the NTT IndyCar Series season began. He was a highly advertised 18-year-old driver who was joining the series for Harding Steinbrenner Racing in a Honda that featured an engineering relationship with Andretti Autosport.

Herta not only met those expectations, he exceeded them.

The culmination was Saturday when he was officially named the fifth driver at Andretti Autosport in 2020. Two hours later, the now 19-year-old Herta won his third pole of the season.

“It's big,” Herta said after winning the pole. “I'm very fortunate to get a deal with the top three teams in the series, obviously. Everybody says Penske, Ganassi and Andretti are the top three teams in the series right now, so I’m honored to be in that.

“Like I've said through this whole process of choosing a team, it had to make more sense than the situation I'm in, and a lot of them maybe didn't. I had the opportunity with Michael Andretti and to also bring Harding and Steinbrenner with me. That was important because they gave me my start in IndyCar and truly believed in me, and I didn't have a full season ride from anyone except for them.

“It meant a lot to stay with them and bring them with me, and hopefully we can continue our progress.”

The season started with high expectations, but before the young driver from Southern California ever made it to Media Day, he found out that teammate and fellow rookie Patricio O’Ward was leaving the team.

O’Ward has since moved on the Red Bull Driver Development Program in Europe. Had he stayed in the NTT IndyCar Series, Herta believes the two would have pushed each other to even more success.

“I'm sure it would have been amazing,” Herta said. “Obviously we were really close in Indy Lights and able to push each other a lot. I'm sure it would have been the same thing. I'm sure if all the poles that I have, I'm sure he was going to match, too.

“It definitely would have made my life a little bit harder, but it definitely would have made me better, and that's what IndyCar is about is the competition aspect and everybody being so close. I was on pole by four hundredths, right? So obviously you can't leave anything on the line.”

Herta has been a quasi-teammate of Andretti Autosport all season and will be a full-fledged member next season. Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport is 41 points behind the leader, Josef Newgarden entering Sunday’s double-points final race of the season.

If it took Herta moving aside to allow Rossi to win the championship, would the 19-year-old consider it?

“Tough question,” he said. “I don't know. I'm sure I'm going to get talked to tonight about something of that nature. I'm hoping I'm not in the position.

“Honestly it depends where I'm at in the race for sure. If I'm leading, it's going to be really hard to say yes and help him out.

“It's got to be some incentives there, know what I mean?”

Next year, he will be part of the team where his father is a co-owner of the No. 98 entry for Marco Andretti. When Bryan Herta was a racer at Andretti Autosport, he was the team’s most notorious, and meanest, prankster and practical joker.

Could Colton Herta be at risk for payback for his father’s mischievous ways?

“Marco was the only one that was there when my dad was driving, so he knows a lot of the tricks,” Colton said. “But I know even more, so bring it on.”

Spoken like a true Herta.