It had been a relatively poor season for Colton Herta prior to IndyCar‘s visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but his superb win on Saturday could be seen as a key turning point in the championship when the final races take place in September.
The 2022 Grand Prix of Indianapolis will go down as a classic with rain causing mayhem in a two-hour thriller that saw multiple incidents, spins behind the safety car and strategy go out of the window.
There have only been half a dozen wet IndyCar races in the last 10 years so it was always going to be chaotic, but nobody could have predicted the drama that unfolded.
Amid the chaos, Herta took victory with a sensational drive, and it all came about thanks to a brilliant strategy call.
A gamble worth taking
Starting from 14th, Herta was set to have another difficult day but the weather provided a golden opportunity for the Andretti driver.
Everyone started on wets, and at the end of Lap 2 Herta decided to pit for dry tyres which looked like a wrong move at the time.
It was a massive risk because the track was still visibly wet and Herta was wrestling his car around the 2.439 miles circuit.
Somehow, he kept the car on the road and had enough tyre temperature to undercut most of the field to find himself in second place by the time everyone else pitted for slicks.
A heroic save
After a treacherous outlap, Herta emerged behind net leader Pato O’Ward who had just come out of the pit lane on cold, dry tyres.
Herta was see-sawing at the wheel, lighting up his rear tyres as he used every ounce of driver skill to not spin and have enough momentum through the corners.
It was exemplary driving and he showed off his talent even more with one of the best saves you will ever see in motorsport when he lost control of his car at Turn 12.
Somehow, the 22-year-old gathered it all up and then ducked underneath O’Ward just two corners later to take what would become the lead.
“Never have I seen an IndyCar slide that far in the wet on slicks that much without something bad happening,” said commentator Townsend Bell. “Amazing stuff from Herta.”
Herta looked like a rally driver in an open-wheel single-seater which is just something you do not see and the way he just went for it and was on the absolute ragged edge for those two laps was mesmerising.
A race-winning moment
With Herta now out in front, he was able to stay out of the chaos that took place behind as several drivers made mistakes or tangled with one another.
Alex Palou, who led the championship going into Indianapolis, made a similar mistake to Herta but was unable to re-gain control so ended up in the grass.
He managed to crawl his way back onto the track, only to stall his car and end up multiple laps down.
Even Josef Newgarden, who so often stays out of trouble and always finds a way to pick up crucial points, was in the wars as the two-time IndyCar champion cut across Jack Harvey which punctured his tyres and brought him to a halt.
The majority of the field made contact or had a spin in the first half of the race but Herta‘s bold strategy call put him out in front going into the final 30 minutes.
Dry tyres, wet track
Herta was all set for victory until more rain arrived in the closing stages of the race and Jimmie Johnson‘s spin caused a safety car at an awkward time.
Everyone had the conondrum of pitting for wet or dry tyres, knowing that the track would dry up quickly if the rain stopped.
It was impossible to know what the conditions were going to do, but, surprisingly everyone decided to pit for dry tyres.
As the rain continued to fall, and became heavier, Herta led a group of cars down the pit lane again to change to wet rubber behind the safety car whilst Scott McLaughlin, O’Ward and Romain Grosjean decided to stay out so took the lead.
Incredibly, Grosjean spun behind the safety car, as did McLaughlin when attempting to restart the race so O’Ward took the lead from Herta.
Eventually, the race got back underway and Herta danced around the outside of the lapped Johnson and immediately went down the inside of O’Ward at Turn 1 to take first place back.
Another safety car followed, and this time O’Ward spun under caution and made the sensible decision to pit for wet tyres.
From there, Herta scampered away and took a memorable victory, on a day he described as the most difficult in his career so far.
Power takes championship lead
Will Power is now the leader of the IndyCar championship as he finished third to maintain his 100 percent record of finishing in the top four in the opening five races.
It was a bad day for most of the leading title protagonists at Indianapolis with Scott Dixon finishing in 10th, O’Ward in 17th McLaughlin in 18th, Palou in 20th and Newgarden in 25th.
Power has a 16-point buffer over McLaughlin and Palou heading into the Indy 500, which takes place on May 29, whilst Herta has vaulted up to sixth in the IndyCar standings.
Even for IndyCar standards, the 2022 Grand Prix of Indianapolis was frantic to say the least.