Laguna Seca: High expectations for Herta

Past success breeds high expectations for Bryan Herta in American Le Mans event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, MONTEREY, Calif. (September 10, 2002) -- As he prepares to compete in his first sports car race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Bryan...

Past success breeds high expectations for Bryan Herta in American Le Mans event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca,

MONTEREY, Calif. (September 10, 2002) -- As he prepares to compete in his first sports car race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Bryan Herta knows that he will be the subject of much attention and scrutiny.

The Valencia, Calif., resident will co-drive a Panoz LMP-1 Prototype with Bill Auberlen of Hermosa Beach, Calif., in the Sept. 22 Monterey Sports Car Championships event for the American Le Mans Series. The All-American team, which drives a car painted in a stars-and-stripes motif, will be looking for its first win of the season, and many are pointing to the event as Herta's best chance to shine in a form of racing that has been new to him this year.

There was a period of time in the late 1990s when Herta virtually "owned" the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road racing circuit. He won two consecutive races at the track in the CART FedEx Championship Series (1998, 1999) and three consecutive poles beginning in 1997. He was left without a ride when his previous CART team shut down at the end of the 2001 season but was able to secure employment with one of the top teams in sports car racing for 2002.

Because of his record at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the annual American Le Mans Series date at the popular track has been looming large on his radar all season.

"I'm definitely looking forward to going there," said the 32-year-old Herta. "If for no other reason than it's got good memories for me of past success in the champ car series.

"But it's going to be an entirely different thing when we get there with this Panoz," he said. "Certainly the car is a lot different than a champ car. It'll be interesting to me because I haven't been to too many places this year with the Panoz that I've also driven a champ car, and it's interesting to see how different the cars really are on a track that I know."

Herta hasn't had the opportunity to test the front-engined Panoz at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but has been gathering information to prepare himself for the opening of practice on Friday, September 20. "I'm told that the Panoz has been very competitive there the last couple of years and it has suited the track well," he said. "I can see why that would be the case. Definitely I have enough experience in this car now and on that track that it shouldn't be that difficult to merge the two together."

Though he lists Wisconsin's Road America as his favorite track, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is also special to him for a simple reason: "It's because I've won races there," he said. "I've had similar performances in qualifying at other tracks, but just never had the results in the races.

"Certainly the race will be interesting for me because of the success I've had there in the past," he said. "I think there will be a lot of eyes on me and what we're doing. So hopefully we'll be able to keep some kind of streak alive, pull a little magic out of the hat and make a win there." The American Le Mans Series race starts at 12 noon (PDT) and will be a timed event of two hours and 45 minutes. NBC Sports will have live coverage beginning at 4 p.m. (EDT), and the American Le Mans Series Radio Web will have live coverage online at www.americanlemans.com.

In addition to the American Le Mans Series race, the weekend at Mazda Raceway will also include races for the SPEED World Challenge GT and Touring cars, the Star Mazda Series, the Mazda Miata Challenge and World SuperKarts. Ticket information for the Monterey Sports Car Championships is available online at www.laguna-seca.com or by calling 1-800-327-7322.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Bryan Herta , Bill Auberlen