ST. PETERSURG, FLORIDA – The 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season is off to a flying start and this week’s edition of Pit Pass Indy keeps pace by providing interviews with some of the biggest names in the series.
The show host is Bruce Martin, a journalist with 40 years of experience covering auto racing for some of the top media outlets in the nation including NBCSports.com, SI.com, Sports Illustrated, ESPN SportsTicker, Autoweek and SPEED SPORT. He provides another lively, fast-paced show with some of the biggest names in the IndyCar Series.
Two races into the season and it appears that youth is not just served, it’s being showcased in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Twenty-four-year-old Alex Palou won the season opening Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on April 18. This past weekend, 21-year-old Colton Herta started on the pole and led 97 laps in the 100-lap Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to score his fourth career victory. That ties him with his father, Bryan, who is on the team’s radio calling race strategy for his son this season at Andretti Autosport. It’s the first time the two have worked together on the same race team and the results have so far been very impressive.
Late in the race during a caution period setting up the final restart with Herta leading two-time St. Pete race winner Josef Newgarden, Bryan Herta was asked, “Which one of you is more nervous – you or Colton?"
Dad’s response was, “Neither of us.”
Colton raced his way to the checkered flag and is laying claim as one of the prime contenders for this year’s NTT IndyCar Series championship.
This came just one week after Herta was involved in a first-lap crash at Barber Motorsports Park.
“It was a great job by everybody,” Herta said. “I’m so happy to rebound from Barber and get the momentum going for a championship season. Josef is so good around here and I was nervous because he was on used Red tires, but they were similar.
“I love that my dad is on the radio and I tied him for wins today, too, so that was special.
“What a start to the year.”
That confidence and performance may signal this year’s leading contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship.
“The advantage of being on the radio is we know each other so well, there is unspoken communication,” Bryan said. “When he first went to IndyCar, people asked me if he was better than I was.
“Nobody asks me that anymore.”
Herta’s Honda defeated Newgarden’s No. 2 Chevrolet by 2.4933 seconds.
Ironically, both drivers were involved in the first-lap crash in Turn 5 last week at Barber Motorsports Park.
“We lost a little too much ground to capitalize on the Reds, I didn’t want to overextend myself and risk anything,” Newgarden said. “It was a good day. To get a podium is really nice. I feel good after what happened last week and that both of us were able to have a good day today.”
Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud was third in the No. 22 Chevrolet followed by Jack Harvey’s No. 60 Honda and Scott Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.
Pit Pass – Indy caught up with Herta several weeks ago to talk about his improvement last season, his outlook for 2021 and his “Side Hustle” – drummer for a Southern California rock group, “The Zibs.”
One of the drivers that is expected to be a contender for the championship is Alexander Rossi, driver of the No. 27 Honda at Andretti Autosport. In an interview I had with him before the race, you can hear the anticipation he had entering the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. But in the race, he was involved in a crash with Graham Rahal while the two drivers were racing side-by-side through the tight corners of the temporary street course. Rossi finished 21st.
In a quick interview this past race weekend, Rossi also talks about the upcoming doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway and his bid at scoring a second win in the Indianapolis 500 on May 30.
One of INDYCAR’s big safety advancements the past few seasons has been the development of a cockpit safety enhancements known as the Aeroscreen. It combines a structure similar to Formula One’s “Halo” along with a Plexiglass windshield that covers the “Halo” structure.
On the first lap of the first race of the season Colton Herta and Josef Newgarden had contact heading toward Turn 5 at Barber Motorsports Park. That triggered a multi-car crash that also involved Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Honda and Felix Rosenqvist’s Chevrolet. Newgarden’s car rode over the nose of Hunter-Reay’s Honda with the right front wheel assembly hitting the Aeroscreen on Hunter-Reay’s car. Without the Aeroscreen, Hunter-Reay could have potentially been seriously injured, but the safety device left him unharmed.
Pit Pass – Indy caught up with Ryan Hunter-Reay to talk about his close call, how the Aeroscreen did its job and his prospects for climbing back into the points race.
Last week, Conor Daly’s No. 47 Chevrolet that he will drive for Ed Carpenter Racing in the 105th Indianapolis 500 was unveiled, and it will pay tribute the famed “Tuskegee Airman.” Daly is sponsored by the United States Air Force and the US Space Force.
The “Tuskegee Airman were the first African American military aviators in America and flew more than 15,000 missions during World War II in Europe and North Africa. Daly’s No. 47 Chevy will be mostly silver with a red nose and red detailing on the wings, the engine cover, and the wheel cover along with yellow accents on the Aeroscreen. That is similar to the paint scheme on the Tuskegee Airman’s P-51 Mustang that they few in their missions that featured a red tail and red and yellow stripes on the nose, nicknamed the Red Tails.
While the rest of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers head to Texas Motor Speedway for this week’s oval doubleheader, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and former Formula One driver Romain Grosjean will watch from the sidelines as they only compete on the street and road courses on the 2021 schedule. Johnson’s No. 48 Carvana Honda will be driven by popular veteran Tony Kanaan. Grosjean’s Honda will be piloted by Pietro Fittipaldi.
Johnson, who is in his rookie season in the NTT IndyCar Series, is back for the second week in a row as I talked to him before the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where he finished 22nd.
We want to thank all our guests, including Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race winner Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, Conor Daly of Ed Carpenter Racing and Jimmie Johnson of Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing for joining us.
You can follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 and read more of his work at www.speedsport.com.
Pit Pass Indy is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.