'The hardest race I've ever done': How Colton Herta won a wild, rain-soaked GMR Grand Prix
INDIANAPOLIS -- The driver who took the first risk had the last laugh in Saturday's GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
After a run of on-track mistakes that cost him several places at Barber earlier this month -- and a likely podium last month at Long Beach -- Colton Herta picked up his first win of the 2022 IndyCar season in a chaotic, caution-filled, drenched road course race.
Here's how he did it:
More: A full list of the crashes and chaos from IndyCar's GMR Grand Prix at IMS
Colton Herta's early gamble
Early Saturday, IndyCar and IMS pushed the start of the GMR GP forward from 3:45 p.m. to 3:07 p.m. to try and avoid as much of the potential storms as possible. But when lightning cropped up just before 2 p.m. and postponed the day's Indy Lights race, IndyCar's race start was pushed right back to 3:46 p.m.
With enough rain falling in the lead-up to the IndyCar green flag, race control called for a 'wet start,' meaning all cars had to start on their Firestone rain tires. What they did after that was their choice. Herta and his strategist (and father) Bryan Herta took advantage early. The driver of the No. 26, as well as Takuma Sato, opted to pit for Firestone red alternate tires on Lap 3, believing there was a dry enough racing line to be able to keep traction and turn quick enough laps to negate the extra grip that came with the rain tires.
In doing so, Herta jumped from his disappointing starting spot (14th) up to the lead, but only after hanging onto a massive save, 'Tokyo Drift' style, while battling for the lead with Pato O'Ward after the rest of the field pitted for reds as well.
WHAT A SAVE by @ColtonHerta! #INDYCAR
📺 : @NBC and @PeacockTV pic.twitter.com/aGJjEqaV3T
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 14, 2022
The quick tire strategy, along with the quick hands in the cockpit, made Herta a player for the remainder of the race, as rain stopped and started and more than a half-dozen cautions cluttered up the flow of the action.
"(That decision) sure helped us a lot, gained us a lot of positions," the younger Herta said post-race. "That was the hardest race I think I've ever done."
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A series of early cautions
Shortly after Herta took the lead, the first of eight full-course cautions of the day came on Lap 6 when Alex Palou spun and then stopped on course with his car stalled in the middle of the track. After going green Lap 9, Josef Newgarden got caught sandwiched running on the back of the track between Alexander Rossi and Jack Harvey on Lap 16. Pinched in between, he spun and suffered significant damage.
After going back to the garage for repairs, Newgarden was able to get back on-track, but he finished 15 laps down. Soon after the race went back green Lap 21, Rinus VeeKay went off-course, and when managed to re-enter the racing line, he did so slowly and right in front of Devlin DeFrancesco. The Andretti Autosport driver had no choice but run straight into the Ed Carpenter Racing machine, delivering damage to VeeKay. With multiple stops for repairs, VeeKay, the defending GMR GP race-winner, took 23rd.
Alexander Rossi rolls the dice
Those three early cautions began to bring the time-limit of the 'wet race' into play. Starting as a wet race meant the GMR GP would have a two-hour time limit or would run 85 laps, whichever came first. With severe storms appearing to be on the horizon, Herta was the first of the leaders to make his second stop on Lap 32, and to the surprise of some, he took red alternates instead of rain tires. Others decided to stay out, waiting to see if rain or lightning would come just after the halfway mark to possibly call the race.
But when Dalton Kellett ran off-course and into the wall on Lap 36, the bulk of the field came in. Before the field went back green, Alexander Rossi and Palou, running near the back, grabbed wet tires, trying to predict that rain would be coming while the rest of the field was on slick alternate tires. Had the conditions gotten bad enough in that stint, Rossi could have taken over the lead, but the race ran dry enough that Rossi was later forced to pit for red tires and give up on his roll-of-the-dice.
The Andretti Autosport driver finished 11th.
When the race went back green after wall repair for Dalton Kellet's crash on Lap 41, Pato O'Ward attempted to overtake Herta on the inside in Turn 1, and the AMSP driver spun around and made contact with teammate Felix Rosenqvist, bringing out another caution.
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A final tire call decides the race
During that caution period, Herta assumed the lead and then opened up nearly a 6-second gap on Scott McLaughlin before Jimmie Johnson brought out another caution on Lap 57. During the caution, the Team Penske driver won the drag race off pitlane and took over control of the race. But as rain began to fall harder, Herta, along with the bulk of the field, pitted for rain tires. Notably, McLaughlin, O'Ward and Romain Grosjean opted to hold onto their slick red tires, a decision that proved pivotal in the closing stretch.
On Lap 65 coming to the green flag, McLaughlin spun and lost the lead, handing it over to Herta for the final time and delaying the race returning to green. O'Ward also lost control for a brief moment before the race returned green on Lap 70. While running in the top-10 in the final minutes, Juan Pablo Montoya's solo-crash on Lap 73 bringing out the final caution period, and the checkered flag was thrown on Lap 75.
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The updated title chase
After Palou's spin and early caution, the points leader entering Saturday's race fell back to 2nd in the title chase after finishing 18th in the race. With a fifth consecutive top-4 finish, taking 3rd-place today, Will Power now assumes the points lead heading into the May 29 Indy 500.
He leads his Team Penske teammates Scott McLaughlin (3rd in points after finishing 20th) and Josef Newgarden (4th, 25th) with Scott Dixon (10th Saturday) in 5th and Herta now sitting 6th in the title chase. After the race, Power talked about consciously trying to be cautious and not take too big of risks on-track, knowing that after one of the best starts of his IndyCar career, he's firmly in the championship battle.
"It was just so hard to decide whether to go to wets or slicks there," Power said. "We just talked about it on the radio. I think you just had to go to wets (at the end). You were going to make a mistake if you stayed on slicks. I just tried to be smart, sit back, and I didn't want to take too big of a risk."
After all that chaos, the top-10 from Saturday's race ended up as such:
1. Colton Herta
2. Simon Pagenaud
3. Will Power
4. Marcus Ericsson
5. Conor Daly
6. Felix Rosenqvist
7. Callum Ilott
8. Takuma Sato
9. Christian Lundgaard
10. Scott Dixon
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IndyCar: Here's how Colton Herta won a chaotic GMR Grand Prix