Colton Herta riding momentum of breakout season at Indy Toronto

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Colton Herta waits in the pits during qualifications. (Darron Cummings/AP)

TORONTO — Teenager Colton Herta knew he was capable of succeeding in IndyCar when he began his first full season on the Series this year.

He just didn’t think success would come so quickly.

The California native, driving for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, won the second race of the season at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin in March, six days before his 19th birthday.

"That really boosted my confidence," said Herta, the youngest driver competing at this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto. "I still get nervous before races but yeah, I think it was a big surprise for everyone — it even suprised me.

"This team’s only been around for two years and I’m a rookie. So to get it so early, I didn’t expect it."

Herta edged current IndyCar points leader Josef Newgarden by 2.7182 seconds, leading the last 15 laps in Austin for his first career win.

The victory made Herta the youngest driver to win on the IndyCar Series and temporarily raised him to No. 2 in the standings.

Herta enters Sunday’s race — a 2.89-kilometre, 11-turn street course around Toronto’s Exhibition Place — in 14th place on the leaderboard with 183 points, putting him in a tight contest with No. 10 Felix Rosenqvist and No. 12 Santino Ferrucci for the rookie championship.

A strong finish in Toronto could help him gain ground on those drivers, but he’ll have his work cut out for him after finishing 16th in qualifying with a 59.0549-second lap.

Rosenqvist cruised through Saturday’s qualifier and will start from the No. 3 spot. Ferrucci will start one back of Herta in 17th.

Herta showed improvement on the track over his weekend practices, posting the fifth best lap time Saturday morning after 15th- and 12th-place finishes in the first two sessions Friday.

Herta won the pole once this season — at Road America in Wisconsin three weeks ago — and finished eighth in that race for his third top-10 result of the year.

"I think we’ve been making slight gains with the car and slowly building up the pace," Herta said. "I wasn’t really happy with the car over the first two practice sessions here but once the grip kinda got laid down I think the car was working better."

While Sunday marks his first Toronto race on the main IndyCar Series, Herta is no stranger to the tough track.

He’s competed here the last two years with Indy Lights, but his last experience in Toronto was a painful one.

"I hit the wall (in qualifying) and I wasn’t able to get my hand off the steering wheel in time and I broke my thumb," said Herta, who competed in the main race the next day, finishing sixth with his thumb wrapped up.

"When you crash in a road car the suspension snaps off whereas in our cars it bends, so it tugged and twisted the wheel and it caught my thumb."

The race wasn’t all bad though for Herta, who gained some valuable experience navigating the notoriously bumpy Toronto road course.

"There are a lot of different things with this track that are very particular," he said, adding that the nasty Canadian winters take a toll on the pavement.

"There’s a lot of different stuff that you can learn from racing here over the years and take into the other cars."

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