INDIANAPOLIS — Even by IndyCar standards, precocious rookie Colton Herta appears to be in a hurry.
The future arrived suddenly and definitively in the nation's top open-wheel series when Herta outdueled points leader and Team Penske stalwart Josef Newgarden for the win in the inaugural race at Texas' Circuit of the Americas on March 24.
At 18 years, 11 months and 25 days, Herta became the youngest victor in IndyCar history. Then his equally precocious team co-owner, 22-year-old George Steinbrenner IV, doubled down on the history making achievement in the postrace media conference.
“I think there's a pretty big race in May,” Steinbrenner said. “I think, for us, that's the next big goal. That would be it.”
It's not fair to say the Harding Steinbrenner Racing team snuck up on the field. There's a pedigree here that begins with Herta's father, Bryan — who made two starts as a driver in the Indianapolis 500, for A.J. Foyt in 1994 and Chip Ganassi in 1995.
Michael Andretti — who has won the 500 six times as a car owner — also has been involved as a co-owner of the Indy Lights team the past two years, and Andretti Autosport has provided technical support to Harding Steinbrenner's entry this season.
Two-time Indy 500 champion Al Unser Jr. also serves as a consultant to the team.
So this is no underdog operation.
But it would have been difficult to predict the team could be this competitive this fast.
Herta slumped a bit after his historic win in Austin, Texas — finishing no higher than 23rd in three starts since — but he's regained his mojo since practice began for the season's biggest race two weeks ago.
He'll start in the middle of Row 2 with a qualifying speed of 229.086 mph — the fastest Honda-powered entry in the 33-car field. Herta's fifth-place perch on the starting grid puts him just to the inside of defending race-winner Will Power, directly in front of Newgarden and seven spots ahead of three-time 500 champion Helio Castroneves.
The Brickyard famously chews through rookies, and even his cadre of elite advisors might not be able to save Herta from a similar fate.
But it's clear his goal of becoming the youngest driver to win the Indianapolis 500 is not in the realm of fantasy.
“I always wanted to not only compete in the Indy 500, but win,” Herta said. “It's such a nostalgic event. It's hard to put into words what it means to me and to a lot of the people that come to the race.”
Juan Pablo Montoya was the last rookie to win the 500 in 2000, but he had already won a CART world championship by that point. Graham Hill also won as a rookie in 1966, but he was the Formula One World Champion four years earlier.
Louis Meyer was the last true novice to win the race in 1928. He went on to become the first three-time champion.
That's 71 years of history stacked up against the Harding Steinbrenner Racing team, but they're just fearless enough to ignore the odds.
“It's cool for me because after so many years of looking up to all these guys that have been able to race in it, (to) finally be able to have the chance to be able to race in it is something that I hold really dearly into my heart,” Herta said. “Yeah, I'm really excited for it.”
Herta has been dreaming of this opportunity since he was 12 years old and first met Steinbrenner at a Skip Barber Racing School. The pair became fast friends and set a goal of competing at the highest level of IndyCar.
Seven years later, that dream is about to become a reality.
“Obviously, a bunch of history involved,” Herta said. “If we can put our names into the history of the Indy 500, it would be incredible.”