INDIANAPOLIS — Colton Herta knows there will be a lot of eyes on him entering the IndyCar Series season.

The 18-year-old son of retired racer and current team owner Bryan Herta is embarking on his rookie season in the IndyCar Series with Harding Steinbrenner Racing after two strong years competing in the Indy Lights series.

In his two seasons in Indy Lights Herta won six times while driving for Andretti Steinbrenner Racing, including capturing the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last May. He made his IndyCar debut late this year at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, finishing 20th.

“Expectations are high,” Herta said. “I think the team is making good gains over the offseason and I think we’re going to be competitive. We just made the announcement that we’re going to be in Honda engines and I think that’s a good thing. They’ve been proven to win on all types of circuits and with no real engine changes next year I don’t see a reason that that should change.”

Colton Herta during the 2018 Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (IndyCar Photo)

Herta will be part of a two-car Harding Steinbrenner Racing effort alongside fellow rookie and Indy Lights champion Pato O’Ward. The two have known each other for years after first meeting when they were both racing karts when Herta was 9 years old.

“We get on really well together,” said Herta, who lost the Indy Lights title to O’Ward by 44 points in 2018. “I actually raced him in karts since I was like 9, so we’ve been racing against each other for so long. He’s a good friend and we work really well together. We push each other really hard so it’s really nice when you have a teammate that pushes you and you can push back.”

While many things will be different for Herta heading into the upcoming season, one thing that remains consistent will be his relationship with George Steinbrenner IV. Herta drove for Steinbrenner in Indy Lights the last two years through a partnership with Andretti Autosport and do so again next year thanks to a pact between Mike Harding and Steinbrenner.

The Steinbrenner family, which owns the New York Yankees baseball team, is accustomed to winning. The Yankee organization has 27 World Series titles and seven since the Steinbrenner family purchased the team in 1973. Herta hopes to continue those winning ways during his rookie campaign in the IndyCar Series.

“It’s a big job. It’s a really big job,” Herta said of representing the Steinbrenner family. “Obviously their name is synonymous with winning. They’ve won a lot of stuff. The Yankees are the winningest baseball club ever. To represent them, the Steinbrenner name, the Yankees, it’s a big job.

“Obviously they put no pressure on me. They know I can do the job if I’m set up for it.”

Herta admitted it’s hard to set expectations going into his rookie season, but he said winning the rookie-of-the-year title would be at the top of his list. However, in order to do that he’ll have to go through several competitors including his teammate O’Ward, recent Chip Ganassi Racing signing Felix Rosenqvist and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Marcus Ericsson.

“Rookie of the year would be great, but you’re looking at the rookie class and if you’re rookie of the year you’re going to have to win a race,” Herta said. “It’s going to be crazy. You have Rosenqvist coming over from Super Formula, he’s a Formula 3 champion and won Macau twice. Pato, me, you’ve got Ericcson from Formula One, so it’s a pretty stout rookie class this year, so it’s tough to get rookie of the year. If you’re going to do it you’re going to have to win and that’s kind of my expectation. I want to be battling for top fives and I want to be battling for podiums. I understand that may be unrealistic in the few rounds as I’m just getting my feet into it, but I know I have the ability to do it.

“It’s just about minimizing the rookie mistakes early on, getting a good feeling of what I need out of the car for qualifying and getting the job done in the race.”

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Adam Fenwick
Adam Fenwick is the Associate Editor of SPEEDSPORT.com and SPEED SPORT Magazine. Both a writer and photographer, you can find him at race tracks across the Southeast covering anything from asphalt late models to dirt sprint cars.