CHAMPCAR/CART: Bryan Herta interview

Bryan Herta, the two-time defending champion at Laguna Seca, will make just his third start in a Champ car this season in the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey. The pole-sitter in each of the last three races at Laguna Seca, Herta will campaign a...

Bryan Herta, the two-time defending champion at Laguna Seca, will make just his third start in a Champ car this season in the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey. The pole-sitter in each of the last three races at Laguna Seca, Herta will campaign a Reynard chassis powered by a Ford-Cosworth engine in this weekend's race for the Forsythe Championship Racing Team. A seven-year veteran of CART, Herta discusses his past success at Laguna Seca, what's he's been doing during the 2000 season and looks forward to this weekend's race.

BRYAN HERTA -- Forsythe Championship Racing Team Ford-Cosworth -- HOW DIFFICULT HAS IT BEEN FOR YOU TO NOT RACE THIS SEASON? - "It was disappointing certainly not to be out racing, but I went in thinking that the program was going to be competitive and through the early winter testing it became obvious that it wasn't. I really didn't want to be out there in an uncompetitive car, so I didn't mind so much that we weren't slogging around at the back, but I was hoping that we'd be able to put something together sooner than this to come back. Jerry (Forsythe) has also had the issue with CART with the third franchise that he wants to get resolved. Despite that I told him a few months ago that I'd really like the chance to go back to Laguna and defend my win there, or at least compete in the race. Thanks to him I've got that chance, but I'm hoping that can grow into something more substantial."

BY SAYING THAT, ARE YOU REFERRING TO THIS SEASON OR NEXT SEASON? - "Yes." FOR THIS SEASON? - "Both. There are several different opportunities out there right now. This is a crazy year for changes, so there's a lot of changes happening. But right now there's five races left, so we're going to approach this one as a one-race deal. But I've been told that if things go well it could become more than that even this year, so we've got that in the back of our mind."

SO YOU HAVE NO DEFINITIVE PLANS FOR NEXT SEASON YET. - "Not yet." WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING TO KEEP YOURSELF BUSY DURING THE SEASON? - "I've been pretty busy, actually. I did some substitute work and I've done some promotional activities. Two weeks ago I went to Germany and did a demonstration run in Derek's car at the EuroSpeedway over there. And I've got a little boy, he's five months old now, so I've been able to spend some time at home."

SOUNDS LIKE YOU'VE HAD PLENTY TO DO. - "Yeah. People always ask that, 'How do you stay busy?' but believe, me that hasn't been a problem. Staying busy has been far from being a problem."

HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT FOR YOU TO SUBSTITUTE FOR TONY KANAAN AFTER SPENDING THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS AS A FULL-TIME DRIVER IN CART? - "It's a different job sort of. When you're doing the substitute thing, you can't start to try and build the team around you - you have to try and fit within the framework of the structure of the team. You're coming in for short periods of time and you're just there until their guy gets better. So, you just and come in and work within the framework of the team, try and keep the team's momentum up as much as possible and I always go in hoping to achieve some good results for myself."

WITH THE REDUCTION OF THE TEST DAYS FOR NEXT SEASON AND YOUR LACK OF SEAT TIME THIS SEASON, DO YOU THINK THE NEW RULES WILL HAMPER YOUR ABILITY TO GET UP TO SPEED FOR 2001? - "No, not for me. I think it makes it tough for a rookie, (but) for me I've got enough experience. I don't need 40 days in a car to get going again. In a way it helps me because a guy with a lot of experience on the track and a guy who doesn't need a lot testing to get up to speed is going to be more valuable."

DO YOU THINK IT WAS A GOOD MOVE TO REDUCE THE TEST DAYS? - "I think so. We used to test so much it was unbelievable and now they've reduced it. I don't think it's made the racing worse, and maybe it's made it better. As long as no one else is gaining that advantage by being out there, I'd rather spend more days racing and less days testing than the other way around."

WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE NEW EUROSPEEDWAY? - "It's really nice. Although the shape is different, it's most like the Rio (de Janiero) track, only the corners are faster than that. I was really impressed with the facilities because they're very, very nice, and I was especially impressed with the crowd they got. I mean it's the grand opening (and) there was no racing going on, just demonstrations runs. They had a lot of activities, but they had 100,000 people there. That's a good race day crowd. Hopefully people liked what they saw and will come back."

WERE YOU THE ONLY CAR THAT RAN ON THE TRACK? - "No, no, no. They had a lot of different types of cars, like older Formula One cars, sports cars, even motorcycles, so they had representation from all the different types of cars that would be competing over there. I think certainly the Champ car was the highlight of their program and that race is certainly the jewel in their schedule."

WHAT LAP TIMES DO YOU FORSEE THE CHAMP CARS TURNING THERE? - "You know I don't even think anybody timed me. The car I drove wasn't completely set up for the track and I had to lift on the straights because we were too short on the gearing and things like that. So I don't know. It's going to be pretty fast but nothing like a Michigan, not like a superspeedway. It's going to be slower than that."

IS IT WIDE ENOUGH TO ALLOW FOR MORE THAN ONE RACING LINE? - "I think so. Maybe not right in the corners, but the entry is very wide and the exit of the corners is very wide. I don't know how easy it will be to pass on, but I think it's definitely going to encourage people to try."

YOU TESTED LAST WEEKEND AT PUTNAM PARK. HOW DID THAT GO? - "It was good. I ran very, very few laps because that was our only engine (Ford-Cosworth) and car (Reynard). We only have one car and right now and we only have the one engine for practice and qualifying. We ran just a few laps to make sure the car shifted, that I was comfortable in the car and we did some pit stop practice, so from that point of view it was very good. Obviously I would've liked to have more laps, but I think given what we wanted to accomplish at the test it was a success."

YOU'VE EXPERIENCED A GREAT DEAL OF SUCCESS AT LAGUNA SECA THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER. ANY THOUGHTS ON WHY YOU'VE BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL THERE? - "People ask me that all the time. There is no real reason other than there's something that really clicks there with my driving style and I've had good cars there. There have been other tracks like that for me, like Mid-Ohio and several others. Long Beach has been like that for me, although I always seem to catch problems in those races where Laguna is sort of the opposite and usually we're able to overcome problems there."

WHAT'S A LAP LIKE AT LAGUNA SECA? - "I really approach the track - it's two different tracks to me. First is the infield section, which is turn 2 all the way up going into the corkscrew. There's a compromise on the set up because the car really wants one type of set up for that part of the track and you really almost have a different style on that part of the track. The second you turn down the corkscrew and start heading down the hill it changes. That whole section where you're dropping down the hill through those fast corners and out of the hairpin, that's a different track to me. I kind of break the track in half. From the corkscrew to turn 11 you're dropping something like 12 or 14 stories, so you're downhill all the way and it's a lot of fun. It's almost like a roller coaster really."

WITH ALL THE ELEVATION CHANGES THERE HAS TO BE SPOTS WHERE IT LOOKS LIKE THE ROAD DISAPPEARS. - "Oh yeah, there's a couple of blind corners and places where you can't see over the rise. That's normal. I guess we've become used to that. It's not that much different than a street course where you can't see around the next corner. We've done enough laps. We know what's over there, or at least we think we do. You just hope when you come out the other end the track is clear and it looks like you thought it would."

HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THIS TRACK TO THE OTHER PERMANENT ROAD COURSES THAT CART RACES ON? - "It's really unique. I think because of the elevation changes and the surroundings of the track - it's actually dirt around the track, it's not grass, so if a car drops a wheel (off the track) it tends to drag some sand across the track. One lap you go through and it's clear, (but) the next lap there may be dirt on the track and it's a little slippery, so the surface changes a lot and you have to stay on top of that. It's a difficult place to pass for sure, and that's why qualifying is so important."

THIS SEASON HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MOST COMPETITIVE IN RECENT MEMORY. DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON WHO HAS THE INSIDE TRACK ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP? - "It's hard to pick right now because it's so close and with only five races left luck is going to be a factor. I mean a guy who has a DNF in these last five races is going to end up falling out of the hunt. I still like Michael (Andretti) though. I think this is probably the best chance he's had at the championship ever, and he's definitely motivated, but Paul (Tracy) coming off two wins in a row, he's got a lot of momentum too. But I wouldn't put money against anybody in the top five right now just because they're so close in points. They're far enough in the season that nobody's there because of luck - 15 races into the season (and) those are the guys."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bryan Herta