Herta scored three wins in 2021, the only driver to match Palou in terms of victories, but added only two more top-three finishes, whereas the Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda driver accrued five more podiums.
That said, Herta was the only Andretti driver to score wins, and in fact between them his three full-time teammates only added two more podium finishes, finishing 10th (Alexander Rossi), 17th (Ryan Hunter-Reay) and 20th (James Hinchcliffe) in the final standings.
Although Colton Herta slipped from third in 2020 to fifth in ’21, Bryan believes that overall it was a strong year for the #26 Gainbridge-backed car.
“I just continue to be… not surprised but impressed by the way he’s continued to develop and fill in gaps to become a complete driver and racer,” said the senior Herta, who saw his son surpass his tally of four Indy car wins. “He’s really had a phenomenal year; it’s almost hard to believe that he was only fifth in the championship.
“We feel like the potential has been there to be fighting with Palou, but for a few things. Some were within our control, some outside of our control. I never like to say that, because I truly believe you make your own luck in racing, but in terms of what he’s done on track, you know, Nashville was the only real mistake he’s made in a race this year that had any real consequence.
“It’s been fun for me to be a part of that this year. It’s very special both as a parent and a racer to be at the racetrack with your son every weekend, feeling like we’re competing to win.”
Among Herta’s many strong performances this year, the new Nashville street course was where he had the biggest margin over his rivals. He was able to go through the first round of qualifying using Firestone’s primary tires, so that he had a fresh set of softer ‘reds’ for the Firestone Fast Six shootout, and took pole by 0.55sec.
However, the race saw several incidents causing yellow flags, a couple of which went against Herta’s pitstop strategy, so that he got shuffled back in the order. Although he put on a scintillating performance to scythe past several strong runners, when he reached second place he found leader Marcus Ericsson a harder nut to crack. While trying to launch an attack, Herta slid into a wall.
Afterward, the 21-year-old admitted that he had gotten “tunnel vision” trying to take the win that his weekend-long pace advantage over the opposition should have earned. His father suggests that honesty is one of his defining characteristics.
“The thing I love about watching him is that he has a great capacity to learn from mistakes,” said Bryan. I’ve seen that since he was six years old and starting out in karting.
“He’s good at evaluating and accepting his role in things; he’s not really a big excuse-maker. He’s willing to learn and then do things differently. In my career I’ve had some great champion teammates to observe in the past, and I think it’s a common trait, so I’m proud he exhibits that.”
Asked if he believed his son in 2022 could have a season like Palou’s in ’21, Herta replied: “I definitely think Colton is capable of that. I think he was this year, but like I said, it didn’t work out that way.
“A guy like Palou has really elevated the level of the IndyCar Series, he’s shown himself to be an incredible talent. I think he’s got those few extra years of experience [outside of IndyCar] on Colton. But I see Colton – and Laguna Seca was a great example – as being able to perform at that extremely high level, and it’s now about doing it on a more regular basis.”