INDIANAPOLIS — Colton Herta came into the Indianapolis 500 fresh off a race win and one of the greatest on-track IndyCar saves in years, but the 22-year-old Andretti driver knew full well a road course win in the rain — even on the grounds of the Racing Capital of the World — meant very little.
But not even he would’ve expected just how cruel the racing gods would be over this past week, culminating in a nasty one-car crash deep into Carb Day practice. After saying he just got loose trailing Takuma Sato entering Turn 1, Herta backed it into the outside SAFER barrier, and the torque of the car snapping around clockwise upon impact lifted the nose off the ground and sent the No. 26 Honda airborne. The car flipped over sideways, flew through the air and landed on the roll hoop, skidding to a stop in the south chute between Turns 1 and 2.
Even before his car came to a complete stop, Herta was on the radio telling his team, “All good,” and once the AMR Safety Team got the car turned right side up, he was able to exit under his own power as well as walk in and out of his initial evaluation at the infield care center.
“Physically, I’m fine. Mentally, I’m fine, but it sucks that the car’s destroyed,” Herta said after he emerged from the care center. “I wish we had two cars ready like back in the day because I’d be fine going back out there right now.”
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As Dr. Geoffrey Billows, a senior member of the IndyCar medical team, explained, the series was still waiting at the time of Herta’s release for the accelerometry data from his car during the crash to determine whether Herta needed a more extensive concussion check-up.
“His initial concussion screening was totally clear,” Billows said.
Herta said he believed the hit his car sustained was between 60 and 70 Gs. Earlier in the season, Jack Harvey suffered a major crash during a post-qualifying practice at Texas, where he felt fine initially, but after IndyCar received his accelerometry data, he required a more extensive check-up. Early race day morning, his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team announced Harvey had not been cleared to drive and would be replaced in the car for the race by Santino Ferrucci, who happened to be in his current home of Dallas.
Even more than the hit, Herta said the worst part of an accident like that was ending up upside down.
“It’s just annoying because all the blood is already rushing around your body from getting slapped that hard, especially rushing to your head, and then when you hang upside down, it’s even more and you just want to get out of the car,” he said. “But it’s very impressive when you can get hit like that and still be standing and fine and no major injuries or anything like that.”
Assuming he’s cleared to drive for Sunday’s 500, the focus on Herta’s No. 26 squad now shifts to trying to ready his backup car. From a mechanical standpoint, it’s relatively easy, team owner Michael Andretti told IndyStar. Because they’re not repairing the crashed car — largely due to the damaged roll hoop from Herta’s flip and skid on-track — all it needs, besides getting put into the setup Herta and company had landed on for Sunday, is to drop in the engine from his crashed car. While the team was in the early stages of post-crash work, Andretti said he didn’t believe the engine would need to be replaced.
Even with switching to a backup car, and whether he has to undergo an engine change, IndyCar confirmed the rulebook states he’ll still be allowed to start in his 25th spot on the grid (the inside of Row 9).
“Unfortunately, the car hasn’t had all the massaging on it and things like that,” Andretti said. The crew jumped so quickly on putting in the necessary work on the car that Herta was held out of the pitstop competition because the backup car he’ll now drive for Sunday’s 500 was the car he would’ve used in the bracket-style battle.
“We’ll find out on Sunday (if the new car still reacts the same). I don’t know, I’m hoping for no changes, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t an effect on it. You hate this, especially when they’re out there running together. (On Carb Day), you’re just waiting for something like that to happen. It’s a bummer.”
Along with Friday’s crash, Herta’s team also had to scramble Saturday of qualifying weekend to make an engine change after his car sputtered out during the warmup lap of his initial run. Having not registered a time through the first round of runs, he went out during ever-changing weather conditions and couldn’t manage a top-20 run at a time where other guys also had difficulty improving their positions on the grid.
Though Herta didn’t flip end-over-end nearly as many times Friday, his crash somewhat resembled a smaller-scale version of Michael’s dad Mario’s testing crash at IMS in 2006, where his car got air underneath it and flipped end-over-end several times through the air. Andretti said that nowadays, crashes such as Herta’s, as scary as they look, aren’t as worrisome as a couple decades prior.
“I think back then, you were really holding your breath. Now, it’s almost a freak thing if they get seriously injured because the cars are so much safer, as well as the track with the SAFER walls. It’s a nicer feeling when it comes to that. When you saw it happen, you pretty much knew already he was going to be okay, even though it looked a little scary.”
Tony Kanaan had the fastest lap in the 2-hour session at 227.114 mph. Next were Marcus Ericsson (227.004), Takuma Sato (226.839) and pole-sitter Scott Dixon (226.696). Rinus VeeKay drove only 18 laps Friday, while all the other drivers went at least 30. Callum Ilott had the most with 68. IndyCar rookie David Malukas suffered Turn 1 crash earlier in the Carb Day practice when Santino Ferrucci cut down on him entering Turn 1, sending the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing car spinning into the outside wall.
For the avoidable contact, Ferrucci received a 20-minute hold on pitlane.
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.