Race Weekend Central

‘Nothing to Lose’ Strategy Call Earns Colton Herta $100,000

THERMAL, Calif. – By design, the NTT IndyCar Series’ $1 Million Challenge was a race of two parts. A halftime break after the first 10 laps of the 3.067-mile Thermal Club layout offered teams the chance to refuel, make adjustments to wings and tire pressure, but importantly not to change tires. Drivers were forced to complete the 20-lap distance with the same set of Firestone primary tires on which they took the green flag. 

For Andretti Global’s Colton Herta, this was an opportunity. 

After spending his heat race defending the final transfer spot from debutant Nolan Siegel, Herta was forced to start the all-star final from the 12th and last position, giving his Andretti Global team an opportunity to exploit the format. 

“I was kind of struggling with rear tires in practice,” Herta told Frontstretch from pit road after the race. “You know, we had nothing to lose. At best, you’d probably end up fifth or sixth. At worst, we’d end up right where we were. We thought we might do something outside the box and save tires.” 

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Alex Palou Maintains Control, Wins at Thermal Club

After the green, Herta let the pack vanish into the distance, lapping at times 15 seconds slower than leader Alex Palou. Preserving his Firestones as much as possible, he fell more than a minute-and-a-half behind Palou within just 10 laps, taking the red flag at the conclusion of the 10-lap segment 93 seconds adrift. 

“The pacing was dreadful,” Herta explained. “Going 10 laps of 10 to 15 seconds off … [it’s] a little bit of a nightmare to do something like that … I obviously didn’t enjoy driving that slow.”

“Ended up being the right call. We were able to blow past a lot of guys and finish pretty good.”

After halftime service, Herta took the green in ninth, vaulted a few spots due to the misfortunes of the three Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing cars, and soon set to work.

He passed Agustin Canapino on the restart for eighth, then took advantage of contact between Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden a lap later to slip through to sixth.

Then, in a very literal sense, the strategy started to pay off. On lap 13, he made a move on rookie Linus Lundqvist that was worth $27,000 in prize money, a jump from the bare-minimum payment made to sixth on back. Then the young Californian set off after fourth-place Marcus Armstrong.

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2024 IndyCar $1 Million Challenge Preview

But Herta’s saved-up tires met a new foe: horsepower.

“[Armstrong] had more push-to-pass than me by 10, 15 seconds … I kept getting really good runs onto the back straight, but he would use his push-to-pass. I needed to do it somewhere he wasn’t expecting me.”

For four laps, the green No. 11 Honda held Herta up, as the podium finishers stretched the margin in clean air. But Herta found his moment.

“[Armstrong] made a slight mistake, had a little bit of double wheelspin off of turn 1, and that was enough of a look for me that I pushed the button, and luckily had enough momentum to get around him.”

That move on the 23-year-old New Zealander earned the 26-year-old Herta another 50 grand, but the battle took everything Herta had – or at least offered third-place Felix Rosenqvist enough breathing room to save some tire himself. Herta crossed the finish line on lap 20 two seconds adrift of the Swede, earning himself a fourth-place finish — and a $100,000 payday.

About the author

Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast, but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.

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Dave Farmer

An unsportsmanlike decision by Andretti. I hope he regrets it, he should.

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