As the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights Series season draws closer to its conclusion, most of the focus has centered on AFS/Andretti Green Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports. After winning eight of 12 races between them with AFS/AGR's J.R. Hildebrand currently leading the standings by 63 points, it's easy to see why.
However, not to be overlooked is a first-year team that has made strides as the season has progressed. Bryan Herta, the 1993 Indy Lights champion and longtime competitor in CART, IndyCar and the American Le Mans Series, has shifted into team ownership and his Bryan Herta Autosport team has been among the organizations just on the cusp of capturing their first victory in the series.
"We knew the first year would be a little tough, especially in the beginning," Herta said. "It's just building the database on these cars because other teams have had five or six years to perfect the setup. We've made good progress, and we're moving forward."
Herta partners with Steve Newey, as the two long-time friends also worked together on Andretti Green's ALMS program between 2007 and 2008.
"Bryan and I worked together in sportscar racing for a couple years," Newey said. "We've known each other a long time, and I have a lot of respect for Bryan. We both had the same idea at the same time, to start an Indy Lights team. We want to grow the team into an IndyCar team eventually, and expand the number of cars we have. Right now, we're going along according to our plan."
Herta's drivers this season include Daniel Herrington in his first full season in Indy Lights and Felipe Guimaraes, a teenaged Brazilian who competed for his national team in the last year of A1GP.
Herrington has run parts of the 2007 and '08 campaigns but has settled in to his Le Bleu water dark blue and white #28 entry, with Guimaraes entered in a selected number of road and street races. Herrington has been among the most consistent drivers in the field with 11 top-ten finishes in 12 starts, currently seventh in points.
Herrington's best result was fifth at St. Petersburg but he was on pace for a runner-up finish at Iowa before encountering traffic late in the going. Guimaraes captured the team's first podium in his debut race at Watkins Glen and finished fourth last race at Mid-Ohio,
"We like the progress, but we want to win races. That's why we exist as a team," Herta said. "I don't think there are any magic bullets. We're coming closer to achieving those results. I have no doubt we have talented drivers, and a crew of people, engineers. All the elements are here."
There was much smiling last race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course when BHA's technical partner, Vision Racing, won its first event from pole position with driver James Davison. BHA and Vision are separate one-car teams but work in basically the same capacity and feed off each other in terms of setup development.
"I think it's helped us a lot in different ways, being able to work with James and his group, on the 21 car, with Daniel and our guys on the 28," Herta explained. "On a weekend like this (at Mid-Ohio) when we bring in a second BHA car, for Felipe Guimaraes, we can share information and data development."
"It's so hard to do things as a one-car team," he said. "IndyCar and Indy Lights are no different, because you don't have any comparison points. All the groups push each other. James and those guys want to beat us, we want to beat them, but we want to help each other at the same time, but it's a healthy competition, and that's going to help us improve our program forward."
Newey touched on the future plans, while Herta presented realistic expectations of where Bryan Herta Autosport looks to go for 2010 and beyond.
"Ideally we want to run two Lights cars full-time as Bryan Herta Autosport," Herta said. "I think Vision wants to run one or two. We could see us as a two-car team, we could work as one BHA and one Vision. I could even foresee potentially four cars, two BHA and two Vision."
"The important thing is the quality of people and quality of drivers," he added. "We have to make sure that anything we do makes sense and adds to the overall program, not take away from it."
The next step in the first season of Bryan Herta Autosport is the final road course event this weekend in Sonoma, CA at Infineon Racing. The team has both cars for Herrington and Guimaraes entered with Davison, now up to third in points, looking for consecutive wins in the Vision entry.
Either way, keep an eye on Herta and his team in the future.