Bryan Herta is a former driver and current team owner in the IZOD Indycar Series. He owns the #98 Barracuda Networks car driven by Alex Tagliani. Bryan Herta Autosport has come from its humble beginnings as a Firestone Indy Lights Team to a contender in the IZOD Indycar Series.
Herta drove in the CART Indycar Series from 1994 thru 2001 and drove for a range of owners including AJ Foyt, Chip Ganassi, Bobby Rahal, Derrick Walker, Mo Nunn, and Gerry Forsythe. The majority of his success occurred while he drove for Rahal which included two wins at Laguna Seca in 1998 and 1999 and five poles. Herta reflects, "I had a lot of great memories then, getting my first win at Laguna was a highlight, the cars were so challenging, so fun, the series was so competitive and the overall experience of being part of that era of Indycar racing was great."
Herta then migrated into the IZOD Indycar Series in 2003 driving for Andretti Autosport originally as a substitute for Dario Franchitti whom was injured in a motorcycle accident. He won at Kansas Speedway and joined the team full-time in 2004 and drove from them until 2006. During that time, he won one more race at Michigan in 2005 and three poles including the first IZOD Indycar Series on a road course at St. Petersburg which also included a sweep of the top four positions for Andretti Autosport. He also developed a strong friendship with his teammates Dario Franchitti, Tony Kannan and Dan Wheldon. "The relationships and friendships we had as teammates there... I do not think that will ever be recreated for any of us," Herta says when talking of his relationship with his former teammates.
In late 2008, Herta and longtime Indycar fixture Steve Newey met at the Performance Racing Industry show. "Steve was the one that asked me if I wanted to start an Indy Lights Team and it hit me at the right time and seemed like a good idea," Herta says. The two purchased an Indy Lights car and leased space out of the now defunct Vision Racing shop. Bryan Herta Autosport was born.
Daniel Harrington was the team's first driver and ended the season seventh in the final standings including the team's first win at Chicagoland Speedway. In 2010, the team expanded and ran two cars for Sebastian Saavadra and Stefan Wilson and ended the season with 8 top 5s and 15 top tens between the two drivers including a win at Iowa by Saavadra. In 2011, BHA signed Duarte Ferreira to drive for them and ended the season eighth in the final rundown with a best finish of third at New Hampshire. Bruno Andrade also ran five road and street course races for the team with a best finish of fourth at Baltimore and finished 17th in points. The team also ran five races in 2012 with Troy Castaneda, Nick Andreas and Anders Krohn driving with a best finish of 9th at St. Petersburg by Castaneda as well as ninth by Krohn at Iowa.
On being an owner versus a driver, Herta feels that it is a new challenge and he still gets to do what he loves to do. "The competitive drive stays with you, and it is a way to channel that competitive spirit in a different way. My hand is not on the steering wheel, but I have my hands on a lot of the other decisions on how the team comes together and how we perform and how we compete and still get to go out 19 times a year and go race is fun, I like doing it," Herta says on being an owner.
In 2010, Herta made his first foray into the IZOD Indycar Series with Firestone Indy Lights driver Sebastian Saavadra attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. The team only had one car and only one shot to get into the show. Saavadra posted a lap at 223.634, and at 1 p.m. bump day he was on the bubble. Tony Kannan, who was not in the field yet, went out and posted a lap quick enough to get himself into the field, but bumping Saavadra in the process. Saavadra was involved in a single car accident earlier in the day during practice which sent him to the hospital, and wrecking the team's only car. Mario Romancini was then on the bubble, he withdrew his time and improved his position with a better time. That moved Jay Howard into the danger zone, and he was bumped by Takuma Sato. Paul Tracy then waived off his earlier time and attempted to requalify to improve his time and try to keep Howard from making another run. His first two laps were not quick enough to bump back in and his run was waived off. As time drew closer to the final gun, Howard suddenly waived off his safe speed to keep Tracy from making another run, which then put Saavadra back on the bubble. Howards run was not quick enough to make it into the show, and Saavadra and BHA was suddenly back in the show after a long day of drama. Saavadra crashed on lap 159 putting an end to the month of May for Bryan Herta Autosport.
In 2011, a remarkable story was brewing for Bryan Herta Autosport. In April, 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner and former Andretti Autosport teammate Dan Wheldon signed with them in a one off deal for the Indianapolis 500. Wheldon immediately stated that he felt the team was going to win the Indianapolis 500. Herta reflects, "It wasn't PR speak for him, he absolutely believed it; on paper, none of us had any realistic reason to believe that we had a shot to win the Indy 500." For a driver that had won the Indy 500 and drove for top teams like Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing, the confidence Wheldon had did a lot for the team. "It was his belief in us that elevated our gain and made us better and I give him a lot of credit for not only what he did in the car and out of the car that elevated our whole program," Herta says.
When qualifying day came, Wheldon qualified on the outside of the second row in 6th place. During the race, Wheldon kept the car in the top 10 the entire day and on the last lap of the race Wheldon was running a distant second to rookie JR Hildebrand, who seemed to be walking away with the race. Entering turn 4, Hildebrand hit the wall, and Wheldon drove past and won the race. Cinderella Story for both sides. Wheldon was coming off being unemployed two months before, and Bryan Herta Autosport had only run the Indy 500 the year before.
The scene in victory lane of Wheldon and Herta drinking the milk together goes down as one of the greatest moments in Indy 500 history.
For a team that had very little experience in the IZOD Indycar Series and barely made it into the big show the year before, this was a remarkable accomplishment and it gave Herta's team a huge boost and changed their outlook. "Instead of us being another Indycar team it put us in a different stratosphere, it changed our perception in the paddock, with sponsors, and other drivers, I suddenly had a lot of good drivers calling to drive for our team." Herta says on how winning the Indy 500 changed his team.
In 2012, Bryan Herta Autosport ran its first full season in the IZOD Indycar Series with driver Alex Tagliani. They started the season without any money from the Leader's Circle as well as a problematic Lotus engine and subsequently switched to the more competitive Honda engine. While it paid off in the long run, it set the team back financially. As result of that, the team did not test any other times during the season. The team finished the year 17th in the standings, but they were in a position to win several races and were competitive everywhere.
Herta has a very realistic outlook on his team's first full season of Indycar competition, "On the standpoint of it being our first full season in Indycar, I'd give it a 10/10 it terms of how much we learned and grew. It's easy to look back and think, this result could have been better here or that result could have been better there. Alex put us the position to win 3 or 4 races, but we didn't win them so from a results standpoint, I'm a little bit disappointed for all of us. Having gone thru the growing pains by switching to Honda midstream really that brought our program to life and we were competitive everywhere and that was really satisfying. Every experience we had made us better and the important thing is that we take what we learned last year and apply it to this year and future years."
Herta also has great faith in his driver/engineer combination of Alex Tagliani and Todd Malloy. "Alex has come to trust Todd explicitly. To be able to leave the track on a tough day, go back to the hotel, rest and sleep believing 100 percent that your car is going to be better because you know your engineer is that good, it makes all the difference in the world. It didn't start that way it developed over time, but those two are in lock step and work very effectively as a pair," Herta says on the two.
Herta's son Colton is also starting his racing career. He is currently racing in the Skip Barber Series, driving in their school league and this summer he is going to run in the Pacific Formula F series in addition to Skip Barber. "It's fun to watch him climb the ranks, he enjoys doing it and we enjoy going to the track together," Herta says on being a part of his son's career. "There's no pressure or expectation on him right now, for us it's just something that we enjoy doing. Whether it becomes more than just a fun experience for him we'll have to wait and see."
As far as getting back behind the wheel, Herta has not completely ruled it out, but he acknowledges what will go along with it. "I think about it every now and then but the team has taken up so much of my time and focus that I question whether I could really put enough time and focus to do it at the level I want to do it, but I don't know. I haven't retired. ... There are some other things intriguing to me, I really like the Global Rallycross Series which is something completely different from anything that I have ever done. I toy with the idea from time to time but I haven't done much about but we'll have to see. Time will tell."