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Future of sports in the SCV: Bryan Herta, the next turn

Valencia resident and Hart grad is taking his racing expertise from driver’s seat to ownership

Posted: July 26, 2010 10:58 p.m.
Updated: July 27, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Valencia resident Bryan Herta, left, talks with his driver, Sebastian Saavedra, during a race. Herta now owns his own race team, Bryan Herta Autosport.

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After a career's worth of accomplishments at a multitude of levels in auto racing, Valencia resident and Hart High School graduate Bryan Herta has his sights set on the peak of open-wheel racing.

He's already been there as a driver, but now he's trying to do it as a team owner.

Herta is one of three drivers in history to win a race in the IndyCar Series, American Le Mans Series and a Championship Auto Racing Teams series. But now, the decorated driver is building toward owning a full-time IndyCar team.

"I've spent my entire life in motorsports and in racing," Herta says. "I started thinking about what the next stage in my life would be and I wanted racing to be a part of it."

Herta began an Indy Lights team, in what he calls a "grassroots" bridge to the parent IndyCar series.

"It's like what AAA baseball is to Major League Baseball," Herta says. "We race the same courses on the same weekend (as the IndyCar Series)."

Along with a young Columbian rider named Sabastian Saavedra, the team at Bryan Herta Autosport stands at fifth in the 26-car Indy Lights Series. Saavedra won at Iowa Speedway on June 19 and has four top-fives and six top-10s in eight races this season.

"He's different than any other boss I've had," says Saavedra of Herta. "As a driver, we get along very well. He's lived everything I've lived."

Even with the relative success in the Indy Lights Series, Herta and partner in ownership, Steve Newey, are not bashful in stating their goals and expectations.

The pair met during their time with Andretti Green Racing in the mid-2000s, where Herta was an IndyCar driver and Newey was the team's chief engineer. From that partnership, they vowed to build another as owners.

The Indy Lights are only the beginning, the owners say, and the team entered a car in this year's Indy 500, but its eyes are on a consistent season-long car that competes with the elite.

"We want to have a car in the Indy Series full time, and then in two years, win an IndyCar championship," Newey says. "But we know they're lofty goals and they have a lot do with funding."

Funding, in fact, may be the biggest hurdle for the team's aspirations, as the struggling national economy has limited advertising across auto racing.

"With the economy, everything has been tight out there and sponsorship has been tough," Herta says. "Now you have to build that sponsor base. But there is an opportunity in IndyCar racing. I raced in the most recent heyday and we're going through a tough period, but we're rebounding right now."

Even with the obstacle of limited advertising, Herta and the team sees the 20-year-old Saavedra as the likely driver for the prospective IndyCar team.

"Bryan and I both feel Sebastian is a talented young man with a lot of natural ability," Newey says. "He has the proper training and he's raced in Europe and won a couple of races last year. The potential for him to be very successful is what we're excited about."

Saavedra, in his second year in the Indy Lights Series, is enthusiastic about moving on to the higher levels of the sport.

"I'm completely ready," Saavedra says. "I've jumped from series to series and I'm ready to make it in the big leagues. It's exciting to be a part of such a big jump and the project. Everything takes steps and there's a lot of work to do, but we're up to the challenge."

While Herta is gearing up for a run at the IndyCar Series, he's also fostering a budding talent in his own home in Valencia.

Herta's 10-year-old son Colton has won national championships in two classes of kart racing this year, on go-karts that can reach up to 65 miles per hour.

As Herta says, "It's nothing like Mountasia."

"This is where it starts," Herta says. "You don't meet a racecar driver who didn't start out in karts, just like you don't meet many pro baseball players who didn't play Little League. You have to build these skills when you're young."

Still Herta says he is not pushing Colton, and the two are taking part in the racing as a hobby, building a bond between father and son.

"I'm his dad, so of course I think he's the greatest thing in the world, but the results are there," Herta says. "He's enjoying it and is doing well. Obviously I'll do everything I can to progress him with that, but if this is all we do and we do it together, that's fine too. We're not grooming him."

With the prospect of an IndyCar team and Colton's developing racing talent, the Herta family looks to be relevant in the Santa Clarita and beyond for some time.

 

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