Thursday, 17 March 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Bryan Herta Interview

Ahead of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar season Brayn Herta's eponymous team merged with the title-winning Andretti Autosport outfit in a move that many didn't anticipate. I spoke with the driver-turned team boss to find out just why this move happened, and what it now means for Bryan Herta Autosport


Bryan Herta Interview

Dominik Wilde: A big story out of the IndyCar paddock this winter was your team merging with Andretti Autosport - What led you to take this step?

Bryan Herta: Long story short we had a couple sponsorship deals that did not materialize as expected, and because of that I had called Michael Andretti and his manager JF Thorman to see where they were with running the fourth entry they had traditionally had, it quickly became obvious that we were much stronger combining resources and the deal all worked out in the matter of a couple of days.

Dominik Wilde: Did it ever cross your mind to follow in the footsteps of Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher and align with another single car team or was the plan always to join with one of the series bigger teams?

Bryan Herta: There really wasn’t a plan to do that at all, almost a marriage of necessity initially, although I will say that I am extremely pleased at how well we have integrated and been accepted into the Andretti fold. There are certainly many benefits to being part of a multi-car program that we were missing, but I have to say that the biggest asset has been that culturally we are similar to Andretti and they have been outstanding in the way they have brought us together and made the transition as painless as possible.

Dominik Wilde: How does the merger with Andretti change the day-to-day running of Bryan Herta Autosport?

Bryan Herta: Essentially, our team manager Don Lambert is still in charge of the #98 car, but the running of the car is fully under Andretti’s roof so they are managing the day-to-day and it is running as a full Andretti car, there is no distinction within the shop between any of the four cars.

Dominik Wilde: Although the 98 car is in partnership with yourself and Andretti, is appears to be being billed as an Andretti entry - Just how involved with the car and team are you now compared to last season?

Bryan Herta: Still very involved, yes they are taking the responsibility of running the car under their roof as we discussed, but my role has expanded in some areas like commercially and in terms of trying to work with all the drivers across the four cars, but less of the responsibility of the day-to-day. As I said, I am very pleased with how this has come together and while it is a shift it shouldn’t be read into that my involvement has been diminished in any way.

Dominik Wilde: Gabby Chaves had a strong first year in IndyCar with you but has been replaced by Alexander Rossi this year - What forced you into making the swap?

Bryan Herta: Basically the sponsorship that was expected did not materialize, and while Gabby is a great driver the deal with Andretti did not work. I will say that Gabby is still involved in what we are looking at for the future so although there is nothing set at the moment that does not mean he couldn’t be drafted if needed.

Dominik Wilde: How has Alexander Rossi integrated into the team?

Bryan Herta: Very well so far, I was personally impressed at our first test at Sebring and although it is early days I know we all hold high expectations for the season ahead.

Dominik Wilde: Of course your GRC team is fierce rivals with the Andretti outfit, does the merger change anything on this front?

Bryan Herta: No, our GRC program is still housed in our shop and completely separate. Mike and I are looking forward to extending our rivalry in GRC, while expanding our cooperation in Indycar. He already told me I’m not welcome in his GRC hospitality (laughs). Honestly it will be fun.

Dominik Wilde: Was there ever any talk of bringing the rallycross programs? Do you think there is potential for it in the future or are you keeping them strictly separate?

Bryan Herta: Red Bull Global Rallycross was never discussed, the programs are completely separate and there is no plan to combine those.

Dominik Wilde: The 2015 GRC season was a strong one for your team, what did you take away from your first proper GRC campaign?

Bryan Herta: Lots of new experiences and learnings, we are excited to begin our sophomore campaign and apply the lessons of 2015. We plan to give Andretti and all the teams a very hard time.

Dominik Wilde: When can we expect to learn about the GRC driver lineup? Can we expect to see Sandell and Dyne return or is that all open right now?

Bryan Herta: No announcements yet, but things are moving forward.

Dominik Wilde: Now if I may ask about the 2011 Indy 500. Of course that year was the 100th anniverary of the race and your team won it with Dan Wheldon. Of course he didn't have a full-time drive in 2011, how did the deal to run him at Indianapolis come about?

Bryan Herta: Basically Dan called me to ask my advice about a different ride, I gave him my advice and then asked if he’d be interested in driving for us. He was with the understanding that if he had a full season deal he could opt out, so with that I was able to put the pieces together, the rest as they say…

Dominik Wilde: The victory was very much a last-gasp, dramatic one, but going into the race did you guys think you would be celebrating the win at the end of the day?

Bryan Herta: Dan always thought so, from day 1. I was less sure, but I’ve said many times he elevated us, not just that day but the whole month of May, and I cannot imagine any other driver winning that race with us, his contribution was far beyond driving and we are all very lucky to have shared that day.

Dominik Wilde: Is there a possibility of running an Indianapolis 500-only entry under the Bryan Herta Autosport banner this year?

Bryan Herta: If we do anything additional in Indycar it would be in cooperation with Andretti, we are “all in” together.

Images: IndyCar Media, Larry Chen

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