Thursday, 17 March 2016

New beginnings for Herta in 2016

It seemed to be a given that Bryan Herta Autosport would line up for this season’s opener. Many also expected 2014 Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves to be behind the wheel. So when Bryan Herta revealed the news that his team would be merging with Andretti Autosport, it came as a shock.

Herta’s team had been on the hunt for sponsors in the off-season and appeared to have things in place, only for them to fall through at the eleventh hour, leaving them with little choice but to get on the phone to Michael Andretti to work out a deal which would see the former team mates pool resources.

“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,” said Herta. “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.”

The deal with Andretti, and Chaves’ sponsorship issues, saw the popular Colombian without a ride and the newly united team looking for a driver.

“Basically the sponsorship that was expected did not materialize, and while Gabby is a great driver the deal with Andretti did not work,” Herta concedes.

Although despite now facing the prospect of spending the 2016 season on the sidelines, Chaves future with the Herta organization is far from decided.

“I will say that Gabby is still involved in what we are looking at for the future,” Herta added, “so although there is nothing set at the moment that does not mean he couldn’t be drafted if needed.”

Meanwhile on the other side of the pond, Californian Alexander Rossi was facing a similar predicament to Chaves.

Forced out of his Manor Formula One ride after Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto came along with deeper pockets, the five-time Grand Prix starter also had no plans in place for the 2016 season.

Days after the Herta-Andretti alliance was confirmed, Rossi found himself having a seat fitting at Andretti Autosport’s Indianapolis race shop. Before long he had inked a deal to race the number 98 car for the season.

After joining the team trackside at the pre-season test at Phoenix and getting behind the wheel at Sebring, Herta was left pleased with how the 2015 GP2 runner-up had integrated himself within the team.

“I was personally impressed at our first test at Sebring,” he said, “and although it is early days I know we all hold high expectations for the season ahead.”

With a new driver, and a new alliance for this season, the Bryan Herta Autosport organization has gone through dramatic change, but how do things differ now for Herta and his staff?

“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,” Herta explains.

“I’m still very involved, yes they are taking the responsibility of running the car under their roof, 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,” he added. “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.”

The union of Herta and Andretti isn’t the first time we have seen such a situation in IndyCar. Prior to the 2015 season, Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher combined their respective teams to create Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing, and although that collaboration ended after just one season due to oil magnate and shareholder Wink Hartman’s reluctance to stay involved in the wake of falling oil prices, it did yield two wins, three further podiums, and a championship charge for lead driver Josef Newgarden.

However, following in Carpenter and Fisher’s footsteps by aligning with another one-car team was never something Herta had in mind. In fact, joining up with any team was never on the agenda in the first place, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t come without its benefits.

“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,” he said. “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 made the transition as painless as possible.”

On the subject of perhaps running an Indianapolis 500-only entry under The Bryan Herta Autosport banner, Herta played down the idea, stating that his team was ‘all in’ with Andretti.

But despite the joining of Bryan Herta and Michael Andretti’s IndyCar teams, the pair will remain bitter rivals in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, where both operate race winning teams.

“Our GRC program is still housed in our shop and completely separate,” Herta said. “Mike and I are looking forward to extending our rivalry in GRC, while expanding our cooperation in IndyCar.”

Herta and Andretti’s first race of their new venture began on March 13 in St. Petersburg with Rossi finishing in 12th position, the highest placed rookie in the field, despite what the former F1 driver labelled as a challenging day.

"That was probably one of the more challenging days I've had in a race car in quite some time," the 2015 GP2 runner-up said after the season opener. "I think we made the most of what we could, we stayed out of trouble and obviously the finishing position doesn't look that bad, but considering we were a lap down, it's a bit of an issue. We need to really look at things in the next couple weeks. It's another set of circumstances coming up in Phoenix, but we really need to understand this with Long Beach going forward."

Read the full interview with Bryan Herta HERE

Images: IndyCar Media, Justin Kosman

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