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Herta goes from behind a wheel to behind a team

Posted: April 10, 2009 1:11 a.m.
Updated: April 10, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
When Bryan Herta is asked why he decided to start his own auto racing team, he readily admits that it’s one of the craziest moves he has ever made.

This from a driver who once crashed in a race and had another car sitting on his head. In all fairness, Herta has more of a reputation for being a conservative, flawless driver than a risk-taker. His first move in auto racing ownership is admittedly risky, but Herta has a plan and his team is off to a great start.

Bryan Herta Autosport made its debut in the Firestone Indy Lights Series over the weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla. His team was impressive in its first two races, posting a pair of top-10 finishes.

But Herta is not all that impressed with top 10s. He wants wins. He wants his team to start challenging for them as early as the next race in the Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 19. He fully expects his team to be a frontrunner.

“To say we want to go after wins as early as Long Beach is ambitious, but we’ve methodically tried to put the very best pieces in place so we can give ourselves a chance to have that kind of success,” Herta said. “This is too much work to not do it right. The payoff is in the winning. You measure it every week. That’s what I like about it. Every week you know where you stand.”

The Valencia resident, Hart High graduate and IndyCar Series veteran has made the transition from driver to owner with a surprising degree of success. Still, it’s probably not the best time to start an auto-racing team. Sponsorship dollars are scarce and securing funds to race and be competitive is as challenging as it’s ever been.

Herta has assembled a team that is ready to meet those challenges. His driver, Daniel Herrington, is young, hungry and described as “personable” by Herta. Herrington demonstrated his talent by finishing seventh in his first race with Herta’s team. He followed that up with a fifth-place effort the next day.

“This is a golden opportunity for me. It worked out to my advantage,” said Herrington, a 22-year-old from Raleigh, N.C. “I feel real fortunate to be able to drive for him and be able to soak up as much knowledge from him as possible.”

Herta’s partner, Steve Newey, is experienced and respected, with years working in Formula One and the Indy Racing League as an engineer and team manager.

“Steve Newey is the nuts and bolts guy of the team. I get to be the frontman,” Herta said. “Because of the infrastructure we’ve built, between Steve and I and even the mechanics on the team, they are all ex-Indy car mechanics. Typically the Indy Lights series is young guys working their way up. We went out and we said we’re going to start building the nucleus of an Indy car team, but we’re just going to do the Indy Lights series right now.”

That’s right. Herta is already looking beyond the Indy Lights series. He wants to compete in the IndyCar Series, go head-to-head against the Penskes, Ganassis and Andrettis of the open-wheel racing world.

“That’s why we started the team,” Herta said. “The goal is to move up to the IndyCar Series. Everything the economy is facing right now, the recession the world is facing, there wasn’t a lot of dollars out there to go start up an IndyCar team. What really makes sense is for us to start as a smaller Indy Lights team, live under the umbrella of the Vision Racing IndyCar team. We’re actually based out of their shop and taking advantage of some of the resources in their facility. As we can gradually grow the program, as the resources become available, I don’t know what the timetable is. Is it next year, two years or three years? But the goal is to grow it and move it into the IndyCar Series.”

It’s possible, albeit a slim possibility, that Bryan Herta Autosport will have a car in this year’s Indianapolis 500. At least Herta and his partners have been discussing the idea.

“It would probably be some kind of partnership with Vision Racing. But it would be a car that we would run,” Herta said. “If we did it, it would only be with Vision Racing. We’ve already formed a good partnership with them and if it was an opportunity for us to expand that partnership then if we could enter a car in the 500 with them, I think we would be very interested in that.”

Tim Haddock can be reached by e-mail at tim@haddockinthepaddock.com. For video interviews of the drivers from Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, Ron Hornaday Jr.’s visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Greg Biffle’s plans to race an off-road truck in Primm, Nev., and updates from the NHRA races in Las Vegas, go to www.haddockinthepaddock.com.

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