MONTEREY, Calif. – Colton Herta wasn’t at a loss for words Sunday after winning INDYCAR’s season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. He knew how to describe it.
“A perfect race,” he said.
It was a perfect answer from what could be described as a near-perfect first NTT IndyCar Series season.
Herta, 19, didn’t win the rookie-of-the-year award -- Chip Ganassi Racing's Felix Rosenqvist edged him by five points with a stirring 14th-to-fifth run Sunday -- but he performed at the highest level. Sunday’s win was his second, following the March 24 victory at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, when he became the youngest winner in the sport’s history. He also won three poles, the most for a series rookie since Danica Patrick in 2005.
Sunday’s race saw him dominate from the pole, holding off three former series champions – Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, among others – while leading 83 of the 90 laps.
Keep in mind how difficult the 11-turn, 2.238-mile permanent road course is to compete on, with its abrasive surface eating at tires. Also keep in mind that Herta lost his chance to win the race at Portland International Raceway earlier in the month when he abused his tires trying to hold back Dixon. He said he learned from that.
Herta wasn’t the only member of Harding Steinbrenner Racing to deliver a perfect race: His crew did as well with perfectly executed pit stops that kept him in the lead despite crafty pit strategy by those trying to overtake him.
“Whenever you win an Indy car race it has to be a perfect race,” Herta said. “You certainly can’t really make mistakes and get away with it because there’s always two or three other guys on that day that can win.
“For sure there were a few guys that could win today, and we just outdid them.”
Think about that statement: Herta “outdid” a field drivers combining for 14 Indy car championships. Except for Power on the last couple of laps, they were no match for him.
“We had the pace on them, and we were definitely the best today, so we definitely deserved to win,” Herta said.
The performance drew strong words of praise from Roger Penske, whose team won its 16th series championship when Newgarden crossed the finish line.
“To see what they’ve put together, a small team, and the quality and the capability of Colton Herta is amazing,” Penske said. “You could see him today – he ran a perfect race. (His) stops were good, and we were right next to him.
“I think (that team) has great momentum and you’re going to hear a lot about them in the future.”
That future includes Saturday's announcement that they will join forces with Andretti Autosport in 2020. The No. 88 Honda-powered entry will compete next year as Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport as part of Michael Andretti's five-car operation.
Remember, Herta is only 19 and his father, Bryan, won three Indy car poles and two Indy car races at this iconic track. Herta also was able to finish seventh in overall points this season despite not being a full Andretti Autosport member.
Clearly, more success for the youngster is sure to come. It should be fun to watch.