The Andretti Autosport-Honda driver led 43 of the 85 laps to score his third victory of the year and the sixth of his career, as the NTT IndyCar Series returned to the streets of Long Beach for the first time since April 2019.
“This is the biggest race for me outside of Indy,” said the 21-year-old who also conquered St. Petersburg in April and Laguna Seca last week. “This is the first race I ever was able to come to, being from Santa Clarita. I was two weeks old when I first came to Long Beach. My father was driving in 2000. It was the only race I could go to because I was so young and I couldn’t fly yet…
“I remember growing up around here, coming to this race every year when I was five, six, seven, all the way up until I was racing in IndyCar in 2019. I can’t believe I won it on my second try. I’m super happy. This is a big one for me.”
Herta had to climb from 14th on the grid, as he and his team fumbled tactics in qualifying, staying too long on Firestone’s primary compound in Q1 – and grazing the wall – before switching to the red alternate compound, when the bent toelink gave out, and leaving him unable to graduate to the Top 12 battle.
“Yesterday I was pretty upset at myself for making that mistake of hitting the wall in qualifying and kind of taking us out of contention when I think we really should have done well.
“But in the race, it’s just fully focused on trying to get the best result out of it. You kind of know by maybe Lap 5 or 6 what kind of car you have, if you have something that could be good in the race. I kind of knew. I got by a few guys, car was feeling good, I kind of knew.
“I didn’t think we had a shot at winning, to be honest. I thought a podium would be a reach, but possible. I thought that was going to be the maximum. I was very surprised by how much pace we were able to have. When I saw by like lap 15 or something we were in fifth, I couldn’t believe it.”
Some of his first lap progress was aided by the hairpin pile-up triggered by Ed Jones attempting to pass James Hinchcliffe and tapping championship aspirant Pato O’Ward into a spin. But it also caused Herta’s #26 car some minor damage. As the majority of the pack came to a halt, Herta’s right-front wheel crawled over teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay’s left rear, slashing the tire open and incurring some minor damage.
“I think we kind of proved… if you have a great start, you start in the back, you can pass here,” he said. “We were one of the cars that was trimmed, but we were able to brake pretty late, which was a big thing for us.
“I was kind of surprised how quick we were at the start, and I was very surprised when we were able to keep going after hitting Ryan in the rear after Jones spun Pato. We had a little bit of damage to the right front, but luckily it wasn’t enough to take us out. We could keep running around and be quick.
He later added: “The steering wheel was pretty right-hand-down for most of the race. I thought it was getting worse. Every time I would turn left, I had a lot of understeer. But when I turned right, the thing would chuck it in – it was really fast! I needed to get a little bit used to that. Once I did, it wasn’t that big of a problem.”
With two wins on street courses – and domination of Nashville until badly timed caution periods and a crash – it’s clear that Andretti Autosport remains immensely strong on temporary courses. Asked how common the setups are between the street courses, Herta replied: “There are some major things that we do keep, then there’s a lot of little things that might change. I’d say depending on the circuit, some stuff might be pretty different.
“There are two or three major things that they found in maybe the last five years that we’ll keep on the car for pretty much all street courses… We have these certain things that just work no matter what and are pretty much go-tos. We test them by taking them off and replacing them with stuff we think could be better, but it never really is.”