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Colton Herta looks for more street course success in IndyCar races on Belle Isle


Colton Herta has reason to be confident heading into this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix IndyCar doubleheader.

The 21-year-old earned his first street course win of his career when he reached Victory Lane at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this spring.

Herta will get two chances — 70-lap races on Saturday and Sunday — to win on the challenging Belle Isle course which features the 13-turn, 2.3-mile temporary street circuit.

Herta has won a race in each of his three seasons in the IndyCar series. He is in his first year competing for Andretti Autosport and team owner Michael Andretti, with his father and former IndyCar driver Bryan Herta as his No. 26 team’s strategist. Dad is a Warren native.

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“I’m really excited, it’s obviously a very fun place to drive, very different than most of the street circuits, very challenging,” Herta said. “It’s certainly bumpy and has high-speed, low-speed corners. So I’m really happy that we get to go back there this year and it’s about to happen."

Herta has built a working relationship with his father.

“I wasn’t too sure it would work out at the beginning, but it’s been great,” Herta said. “I really wanted it to happen for a while because I thought it would be something cool and fun to try out. He’s an amazing strategist so it obviously benefits me a lot. I have a great team, great guys, pit stops and obviously strategy is such a huge role in IndyCar, and you need everything to be good and we have that.”

Bryan Herta won a pair of races while driving for Andretti, at Kansas in 2003 and at Michigan International Speedway in 2005.

The elder Herta also won two Indianapolis 500s as a team owner — in 2011 with the late Dan Wheldon kissing the bricks, and in 2016 with Alexander Rossi, who is now Colton’s teammate with Andretti Autosport, along with Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Colton, who sits seventh in points, believes he can win a series championship.

“We have the team to do it," he said. "It’s really cool for me to race for Andretti, not only because it’s Andretti, but also my father raced for Andretti for a while when he was racing in IndyCar. They do a great job. They give me cars that are capable of winning most weekends and that’s all you can ask for in a series that’s competitive as this one.”

More: 'I'm super excited': Alex Palou, IndyCar points leader, poised for Detroit debut

Herta feels fortunate to team with Hunter-Reay, who won the IndyCar series title in 2012, and Rossi, who is in his fourth season with Andretti Autosport. Rossi won three races and finished second in points in 2018. He captured two more races and finished third in points in 2019.

“I’ve learned a lot from them,” Herta said. “I think they’ve been in IndyCar for a long time and I need that knowledge. They have a lot of experience so if I need help from them I can get it on occasion and they are very open to helping me.”

Herta made some noise as an 18-year-old rookie by winning the inaugural IndyCar Classic at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin. He became the youngest winner in circuit history on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course early in the 2019 season for Harding/Steinbrenner Racing. Herta made his debut on Belle Isle later that season, finishing 12th in each of the races.

The IndyCar series didn’t come here last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rossi finished second in Race No. 1 on Belle Isle in 2019 and fifth in Race No. 2, a reason he was in the hunt for the series championship. Hunter-Reay had an excellent weekend on Belle Isle (second in Race No. 1, first in Race No. 2) in 2018. He finished fifth and fourth in 2019.

Having fans back at the track excites Herta. He finished 16th in the Indianapolis 500 less than two weeks with 130,000 spectators on site. They cheered as Helio Castroneves passed Alex Palou with two laps remaining to become the fourth four-time champion, joining A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

“It was awesome to finally see fans coming to the race,” Herta said. “I think in Detroit you can actually feel like we’re back to normal.”

Onlookers will get the opportunity to see Herta and other rising stars. Palou, 24 and the series points leader, is here. So are 22-year-old Pato O’Ward and 21-year-old Rinus VeeKay. Each driver has won a race this season with six-time series champion Scott Dixon and Castroneves also reaching Victory Lane.

Herta enjoys being in that precocious group.

“It’s super awesome to be a part of the youth movement,” Herta said. “I think usually you see one or two rookies or young guys come in the series where they can have an impact and stay for a while. But it’s crazy where the last two years we’ve had five or six young guys who are hungry and fast enough to stay in the series.

“It’s cool to see guys like Pato because I’ve been racing with him since we were 10-year-olds in go-karts. It’s really cool to see how far we’ve come.”

Detroit Grand Prix

► When: First race, 2 p.m. Saturday; second race, noon Sunday

► Where: Belle Isle

► TV: Both races are on NBC

 Tickets: Go to www.detroitgp.com/tickets

david.goricki@detroitnews.com