This week’s test at Sebring International Raceway saw a new face behind the steering wheel of the BMW M8 GTE as 17-year old Californian Colton Herta drove the No. 24 machine in his very first laps in a GT car as BMW Team RLL prepared for the 66th 12 Hours of Sebring. Herta has been named as a BMW Team RLL test and reserve driver for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
Herta, son of IndyCar Series driver Bryan Herta, was recently signed to the BMW Motorsport Junior program where he will participate in many of the program’s disciplines that will support his growth as a young racing driver. Beginning in 1977, the BMW Junior program has proved foundational for many young American drivers; among them Eddie Cheever (1977); Tommy Milner, Graham Rahal, Jonathan Summerton (2004); and Trent Hindman (2015).
The drive at Sebring comes just one month after Herta participated in the Formula E Rookie Test driving a MS&AD Andretti Formula E racing car with BMW’s partner, Andretti Autosport, in Marrakesh, Morocco. This year will also see Herta race in his sophomore Indy Lights Championship season for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing . He finished third in the 2017 Indy Lights championship.
“Having never driven a GT car before, it was a day of firsts for me," said Herta. “I really enjoyed the experience and felt that I fit right in. While I was expecting to sense the weight difference from the open wheel cars I currently race but what did take some laps to really understand was the braking. You sit in a different relationship to the tires so your sense of the force is much different. I had thought that a GT car’s grip would be less in the high speed corners, but there was a surprising amount of downforce. On a scale of one to 10, I’d say I’m at a seven. With two or three more sessions I believe I’d be ready to push.
Continuing to comment on being named a BMW Junior he said, “I know Ricky Collard and Beitske Visser (2018 BMW Juniors) so I realize I am in strong company. I am super excited to have this opportunity and ready to take advantage of everything offered."
“BMW of North America welcomes another young American to the BMW Junior program and we are excited to be able to allow Colton to participate with BMW Team RLL," commented BMW NA Motorsport Manager Victor Leleu. “His very first laps in the M8 GTE showed the potential BMW knew was there."
The two-day test offered 16 hours of track time divided over five sessions, including two hours of night practice. Drivers Bill Auberlen, Connor DePhillippi and Alexander Sims drove the No. 25 M8 and John Edwards, Jesse Krohn and Colton Herta in the No. 24 M8. Nicky Catsburg could not make this test and thus opened the seat for Herta who drove for more than one hour during the first day. The test was an opportunity for the team to use the latest BoP changes allowed by IMSA.
Led by Bobby Rahal, BMW Team RLL finished the 2017 IMSA season with four victories including consecutive wins at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Petit Le Mans to close the M6 GTLM program in the biggest way. Since 2009, the team has totaled 17 GT class wins among 68 total podium finishes campaigning the BMW M3, BMW Z4 and BMW M6.
The 66th Annual 12 Hours of Sebring will take the green flag at 10:40 a.m. on Saturday, March 17th.