SONOMA, Calif – The Verizon IndyCar Series field this weekend at Sonoma is made up of youth. 36-percent of the 25 drivers for Sunday’s Sonoma Grand Prix (6:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network) are either in their first or second years in the series. But, for two of the drivers, they’ll be making their first Indy Car starts – ever.
Both Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta are coming off of thrilling campaigns in the Indy Lights Series. O’Ward narrowly held off Herta for the 2018 title, earning the two Andretti Autosport teammates an opportunity to race for Harding Racing for this weekend’s season finale.
Rumor is Harding will merge with Andretti and Steinbrenner Racing for 2019 and put both drivers in the seats. This is a potential tryout situation for both.
But, after two practice sessions around the Sonoma Raceway, both drivers talked about how fun yet challenging these cars were to drive.
“Still getting into the mix of things, learning the ins and outs of what practices are here, said O’Ward. “The track position is a little hard to get.”
O’Ward, also made jokes about his rookie status too.
“Didn’t really get a clean lap, maybe because we’re rookies and people don’t really care,” he continued. “But I guess I just — I’ll have to do the same. But it was good. We’re just — it’s a new car. It’s a new team. It’s a lot more people. The amount of people around you and the amount of information that you have to kind of go through is a lot more than what we’re used to. That’s going to be important to learn and just to keep evaluating the next few days.
“So far it’s been pretty fun.”
Herta, his teammate, said that he waited his whole life for the opportunity and is extremely excited just to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet in Sunday’s race.
“I’ve waited 18 years for this,” the second generation driver said. “Right out of the womb I was waiting to get into an IndyCar.”
Herta, agreed with O’Ward’s assessment on the weekend so far and that the two will work together to figure it out.
“Just like Pato said, it’s a challenging track,” Herta continued. “It’s challenging circumstances. It’s hard to get the tires to work here, especially when you only have one lap. It’s tough to get on top of that.”
Both drivers admitted to being a bit star struck during the first practice session too.
“I don’t think it really sunk in until the first practice session, and then you’re like on the grid with all the big boys,” Herta said. “You’re going by Power and Dixon and Bourdais, guys you kind of looked up to when you were growing up and coming up in the ranks, and now you’re trying to beat them. It’s pretty cool in that sense, but yeah, it probably didn’t hit me until I sat in the car getting ready for the first practice.”
The duo did well for their first official days. They’ve each had some prior testing seat time over the last month, but never any action with this many cars on the track.
The Indy Lights season had just seven drivers for much of the year. The tests never had any more than 12 total cars. Now, they’ll be competing against 23 other drivers.
“There’s a lot more cars than what I’m used to in Indy Lights,” said O’Ward.