After prevailing in two battles with another Team Penske-Chevrolet, that of Will Power, Herta said that on a day when he couldn't quite match the fastest two, a runner-up finish was welcome.
Remarkably, despite having scored four wins in his two-and-half-season IndyCar career, it marked only the second time that the Andretti Autosport-Honda driver had captured a podium finish that wasn't the center step.
"It finally happened," smiled the 21-year-old who last year finished third in the championship. "I’ve been struggling to get on the podium when I’m not winning, so it feels nice to finally get one – or the second one in my career. The team did an amazing job.
"We seemed to lack a little bit of pace to Alex and Josef. They seemed to be the guys to beat. So I think we had third place pace and that was where we were going to finish until Josef had that problem. The car felt really good. Guys did an amazing job in the pits to gain me a few spots on track and put us on the podium in the second spot…
"It was just one of those days where we didn’t have enough pace. We were down two, three tenths of a lap to Alex and Josef. Especially at the beginning of the race we were struggling. Once the grip came in and our car tightened up a little bit, it helped, but we were still lacking to them.
"You know, I think we kind of maximized what we could have done, but yeah, today for sure wasn’t a day that we were going to win on pace."
A lock-up under braking during his opening stint on the alternate tires "definitely affected my red tire pace because you see I was just terrible and I had a big vibration on one of the front tires," he said. "Definitely lacked pace on there, but once we got the blacks [harder primary tires] on, we seemed OK."
He later explained: "I think everybody knew that this was going to be a [tire-]deg race. You know, my situation was a lot worse than everybody else’s because we had that vibration on the front tires, and that just degraded all the grip for a moment. Then I was overslipping them because of this, and all the grip went away really quickly.
"It seemed like [tire degradation] wasn’t completely awful like I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be really big, and it didn’t end up getting like that. But for sure you needed to be conscious of it and do some minor changes to your driving to kind of execute and really square off those corners so you’re not putting too much G[-force] on the rears."
Herta, who dominated this year's race at St. Petersburg was asked about the scarcity of podium finishes, and responded: "We definitely have had the speed to do it everywhere that we’ve gone, which is nice, but we just haven’t executed every single part, whether that be strategy or pit stops or me making mistakes on track. It hasn’t all come together.
"It came together today, but we need to be doing it more consistently because we do have really fast racecars and we have the pace to be up front every single weekend. It’s just a matter of if we can get it done in the race and have perfect races to get it done every weekend. We’re working on it. It’s getting better.
"This will be a big confidence boost for everybody. Fourth place last week in Detroit and then come here and get a second – we’re definitely on the ball. We've just got to keep doing it."
His teammates Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe were far more downcast after finishing seventh, 13 th and 15 th respectively. Rossi, who ran fourth in the third stint, said: "We were having a good race to start, but ultimately we just never had the pace on the [Firestone primary] blacks. I felt good on the reds, but with the way the yellows fell that was the shortest stint of the day… We also ran out of overtake pretty early. It was just another irrelevant weekend for us.”
Hunter-Reay, too, spoke of balance issues.
“We just couldn't ever find that happy spot with the tires," said the 2012 champion. "I was loose or had understeer and just never really found the rhythm here as we have in years past.
"To pour fuel on the fire, we were also dealing with a bunch of cars who took new tires right at the end while we were struggling on burnt up blacks."
Hinchcliffe said he found his car suffered similar handling traits to that of Rossi, observing: "The yellows didn't help us as much as the other guys. We managed to move up a few spots and the guys were good in the pits.
"The Genesys Honda was great on reds, but a little trickier on blacks which seemed to be the same for everyone throughout the field. Happy to make some progress, but wish the race would've played out a little bit differently and we would've been able to get a few more spots.”
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