WASHINGTON: Colton Herta overcame rain-slickened conditions and a host of rivals to capture Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis for his seventh career IndyCar triumph.
The 22-year-old American was the first to switch to better-gripping wet tires at the start of the race and made a risky late pit stop to have them again, strategy moves that paid off with a victory under caution.
“It sure helped us a lot. We gained a lot of positions there,” Herta said. “Man this is awesome.
“That was the hardest race I think I’ve ever done. Wet to dry, dry back to wet.”
Herta won his first race since last year’s season-ender at Long Beach with France’s Simon Pagenaud second, Australian pole-sitter Will Power in third, Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson fourth and American Conor Daly fifth.
Rain and lightning delayed the start of the race by about 40 minutes at the 14-turn, 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which uses some of the famed oval layout where the Indianapolis 500 will be contested on May 29.
Changing weather conditions made for a chaotic atmosphere with teams trying to guess whether to use tires with more grip in the rain or slicker rubber for dry conditions.
That led to a wild race which was trimmed from 85 laps to a two-hour event.
Power, a five-time winner on the course, made his 64th IndyCar pole start, three shy of Mario Andretti’s all-time series record, but was overtaken quickly in wet conditions by Mexico’s Pato O’Ward.
Herta made the first switch to slicker tires and escaped a skid on lap six, then passed O’Ward for the lead two corners later.
Herta kept his edge after the first pit stop cycle on lap 33 as skies darkened and Ericsson stayed out hoping the race might be stopped.
It wasn’t, but O’Ward spun and caused a lap-45 restart on which Herta passed Ericsson for the lead. New Zealand’s Scott McLaughlin took second and O’Ward worked his way back to third by lap 56 as rain returned.
Herta pitted and took slick tires as did McLaughlin and O’Ward but Herta then went back to the pits quickly for wet tires, a pivotal move.
McLaughlin spun out on a turn while leading under caution and O’Ward took the lead, but Herta surged past them both on a restart to jump in front with 14 minutes and both his foes went back to the pits soon after.
Herta kept the lead from there, spraying water on his rivals on the front straightaway but nearly missing a turn in the dying minutes before a final rival’s spin out led to a slow-speed caution finish.d