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Herta Passes First Test in Opening Practice, Ready for More Lessons

By all appearances, Colton Herta was his usual unfazed self as the long-haired, fearless driver going faster than any other rookie in Tuesday’s first day of practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Not so fast.

The 19-year-old driver was fifth on the speed chart in his No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda with a top lap of 228.284 mph, but how he handled his first experience in an Indy car on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval was by his own admission a bit deceiving.

“I realized today I do not know anything about super-speedway driving,” Herta said. “But I’m learning a lot. I learned a ton today. We just need to get through this week and keep making the car better and keep making the changes so I can feel what each change does and kind of understand a bit better of what I want.

“On a road course, I know what I want. On this, I have no clue what I want yet. If we just go through all these changes, maybe the car gets a little worse, maybe it gets a little better, but I’ll get more and more comfortable and I’ll be able to see which I like.”

Team co-owner George Steinbrenner IV, president Brian Barnhart and driver coach Al Unser Jr. came away impressed with how Herta handled himself in adapting to faster speeds than he’s ever run.

“I thought he did great,” Barnhart said. “He got just under 200 miles under his belt. He got the solo car running and a little bit of group running.”

In other words, it was business as usual for someone who hadn’t done this before.

“It didn’t feel like it was anything different from what he hasn’t done for 15 years,” Barnhart said.

To many, the son of former driver/current team owner Bryan Herta always seems so calm, cool and collected. He became the NTT IndyCar Series’ youngest winner in history in the season’s second start at the Circuit of The Americas, triumphing at age 18. Despite misfortune in the past three starts, he’s 13th in the points.

“This is completely different,” he said. “This is something I don’t know what to do in. On a road course, I know what I’m doing. I’ve done it for a long time. Even if the car is not right, I can find time out of it. I can do different stuff. I’ve never done this before.”

Barnhart and Unser reiterate that the young team is still learning. Co-owner Mike Harding put it together in 2017 and then teamed up last offseason with Steinbrenner, the grandson of the late New York Yankees owner who became the series’ youngest owner at the age of 22.

Herta and Steinbrenner teamed with Andretti Autosport to win six races the past two years in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, so the driver being ahead of the curve doesn’t come as a surprise. Herta swept all three Indy Lights races last May at IMS, two road course events during the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the Freedom 100 on the oval.

“It was a really good day, especially our first time out,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ve got a lot more days of these to come, so we’ll see where we’re at by the time qualifying comes around.”

Herta did show his inexperience with a Happy Hour hiccup as he exited the pits too quickly and spun out in Turn 2. No damage done. Another lesson learned.

“We’re still a young team, and it’s great just to be as competitive as we are on the racetrack,” Barnhart said. “We’re going to still have some growing pains as a young team with a young driver. We’ve still got to keep in mind to manage those expectations. This is one hell of a tough series. To be where we are right now, it’s nice to show that competitiveness.”

Two-time “500” winner Unser added, “I think we’re way ahead of the curve.”

This day was encouraging for the same reason as most other days – Herta continues to be fast. He’s turned quick practice laps everywhere he’s been. So that made Tuesday a positive start.

“If we have good pace, it’s a lot better than running around in 12th all day and finishing 12th and having 12th-place pace,” he said. “I have a lot of years to learn about racing and racecraft. If we can be quick anywhere, that’s the biggest thing. A lot of people will tell you it’s a lot easier to make a fast driver slow down than make a slow driver speed up.”

Indy 500 practice continues Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (ET) each day. Qualifying to set the 33-car field is set for Saturday and Sunday.

Tickets for all activities at IMS this month are available at IMS.com.

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