There may be no other driver who looks forward to the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach more than Colton Herta.
Not only is it a home race for Herta, who grew up in Santa Clarita, California, but it’s also a place where he’s had some of his strongest performances in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, including a victory in 2021.
Andretti Autosport already has proved to be potent on street circuits this season, with three of its four cars qualifying in the Firestone Fast Six at the opener last month at St. Petersburg, Florida. Plus, Herta wheeled his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda to a track record in qualifying to win the NTT P1 Award at Long Beach last year, with a flying lap of 1 minute, 5.3095 seconds, so there’s plenty of reason to be confident coming into this weekend’s 85-lap contest on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary circuit.
“It's good, but I’ve never had a bad race car here, really,” Herta said. “So, that's like the biggest thing. Obviously, we’ve found some stuff that seems to be better on street courses, better than we've already had. I think we've had the best street course cars, give or take, at pretty much every place the last few years. But yeah, it's a lot of confidence, a lot of confidence coming into this weekend.”
Herta was quick out of the gate during opening practice Friday, running 25 laps and ending up third overall after a quick lap of 1:06.9808.
“I'm happy with it,” said Herta, a seven-time winner in the INDYCAR SERIES. “It's as good as you could expect. A really solid lap. Didn't have much traffic, which is nice. We got a clear read of the balance throughout the whole track.
“Yeah, making small adjustments, getting in there. The car to start off with was really nice.”
There is some unfinished business for Herta, who is coming into this weekend seeking redemption after last year’s race at Long Beach, which saw him lead 28 laps from the pole before a self-inflicted mistake led to a crash in Turn 9 just 30 laps from the finish. The same corner brought an early retirement to Herta’s race in 2019, too.
“It's tough because it's so frustrating when you do something like that, it’s the second time I’ve done it in Turn 9,” Herta said. “So yeah, definitely want to get another win, put it on pole; that's always goal. But I need to do good here. Love racing here. This, besides Indy (the Indianapolis 500), it is the biggest race for me to win, just because it’s a home race and whatnot, so want to win here, for sure.”
That quest for victory also comes with a surprising lack of distractions for Herta, who grew up in Southern California. One might think he was under siege with requests for tickets, pit passes and other perks this week for his home race. Nope.
“I’ve got great friends and great family,” he said. “I’ve never been asked for a ticket from my friends or family. They always buy their own and kind of leave me alone to do my job, and I see them after the race.
“It makes my job a lot easier when I don’t have to worry about that. It’s great to be back. The sun’s out. I feel fantastic. The car is fast. What more can you ask for?”