CART MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 5, 1997
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone and welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. We want to thank you all for joining us today. We would like to extend a special welcome to our guest this afternoon driver Bryan Herta of Team Rahal. Welcome, Bryan, and thanks for taking the time to be with us today.
BRYAN HERTA: Well, thank you.
T.E. McHALE: Bryan, driver of the No. 8 Shell Reynard Ford has earned top 5 finishes in two of the past 3 PPG CART World Series events. His third place effort in the July 13th Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland was the fourth podium appearance of his career and his best finish of the season on a road course. His fifth place showing in the July 27th U.S. 500, presented by Toyota, at Michigan Speedway, was his best finish of the season on an oval. Bryan enters this weekend's Miller 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course ranked 11 in the PPG Cup standings with 55 points. He has enjoyed considerable success at Mid-Ohio in the past with a fourth place finish at last year's Miller 200 and a fifth place effort in 1995. Bryan also won a 1993 Indy Lights event at Mid-Ohio and earlier this summer he posted the fastest lap among the 19 drivers participating in an open test at Mid-Ohio at 123.568 miles per hour nearly 1 and a half miles per hour faster than the track qualifying record of 122.1 set by Alex Zanardi last year. The Miller 200, Round 13 of the PPG CART World Series, will be televised live by ABC this Sunday August 10th at 3 P.M. eastern daylight time. With that, we are going to open it up for questions.
Q. I just wondered, Bryan, I know this is a little bit off the course, but are you still thinking about attending Ohio State or have you -- where are you in regard to classes there or are you done or are you going to continue in the future? Just curious about that.
BRYAN HERTA: I did take classes at Ohio State for some time. And, unfortunately, when I got hurt, I had to drop my classes and since then I have been pretty busy. So, I am actually going to stay focused on my day job for a while. But, it is something I'd like to finish at some point in the future.
Q. Where are you at in regard to getting a degree from Ohio State and what field would it be in?
BRYAN HERTA: I am an economics major. It would it take me less than a year to finish, if I could go as a full-time student.
Q. There has to be a feeling among the Rahal Team that you are just this close to victory, both because of your finishes in the last three races and also Bobby leading at Michigan and then finding the wall, not to mention his dominant performance at Rio and of course, you tested well earlier this summer at the track. So, given that this is your sort of home-race and all, is there perhaps more of a feeling of optimism than there has been all season with the team?
BRYAN HERTA: I think there is. We have actually been pretty optimistic the last few races and like you said, I guess there is always two ways to look at the last, you know, few situations like what happened to Bobby last week. But, I think we are trying to take the positive approach, which is he had a great car and led the race and, you know, unfortunately, just got pushed up a little high there and ended up in the wall. But, we seem to be having good reliable cars every weekend and that has been a trait for this team and at times we have searched for the speed. But, I think we have got a good focus right now and the team is head in the right direction. So, that, combined with the fact that we are going to Mid-Ohio which is a track that we do test a fair amount on and have had very good successful testing bodes well for the weekend. Anything can happen, though. I hate to keep, you know, paraphrasing myself or I guess I am hedging my bets because we have been so close so many times and it hasn't happened that, you know, I am a little bit on the cautious side. But, I feel very confident going into the race.
Q. Talk a little bit about the home course there. How many days have you actually spent up there testing just this year and what is the key to getting around that place as fast as you do?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, it is funny, they call it our home course and it is because it is the closest track to us. But, we don't test there as much as people think. Certainly over the winter there is obvious reasons why we can't run up there most of the off-season. And, once the season rolls around I have tested four days up at Mid-Ohio and Bobby has tested two. So, we have had a fair amount. But, two of those days were very early in the year, around March or April, and then the open test I did and then Bobby has done two days about a month, three or four weeks ago. So, we test there a fair amount. But, I think if you check with the teams, you'd find quite a few that have done that many days also, or more. Certainly Penske has been here a lot. Tasman tests a fair bit because it is close for them. And, a lot of the other teams, I know Parker Johnstone has been up here a few times. So, the reason it gets that kind of testing is that it is a great track. But, it is a really good test track because the changes are, for some reason, a little easier to pick a part or to feel on that circuit.
Q. What is the key to getting around there?
BRYAN HERTA: The key to getting around there.... It is a rhythm track, no doubt about it. There is not a lot of rest, even the back straight has got a kink in it and there is not a lot of rest. So through the back section just having a car that will flow from one corner to the next, there is a lot of sections where there is actually like three or four corners, I think that really comprise what I call one section of the track. If you can't get through any one of those, then your whole segment time is going to be off. So having a car that transitions well from right to left is probably the biggest key to getting around there.
Q. Curious just when the team is ready to fly like this, what do you think of a team owner that goes out to play golf?
BRYAN HERTA: I think it is great. I think, you know, we have got a lot of races in a row and we have got a tough time here and I think it is great to be able to, you know, get away and recharge your batteries and I think that is a show of confidence in the people that we have here everyday running the team.
Q. Did you take a break yourself?
BRYAN HERTA: No. I had to go testing (laughs). I went testing in Road America for a couple of days.
Q. Discover anything?
BRYAN HERTA: No. Actually, it wasn't a great test for us. I went reasonably quickly, but on the first day, we had a gearbox problem. I only did about three laps and we had to fly in another gearbox from Columbus then I did three-quarters of a day the second day before we had to leave to catch a flight. But, the track was off a little bit, I think, because they had just had there historic weekend the weekend before that, so the track was pretty oiled down. Those guys, they don't use as much Stop-leak as I think maybe they need to.
Q. If I might just ask a second question, can you put your finger on why it is that the team has kind of come on in the second half of the year this year and I guess that happened with you last year as well --
BRYAN HERTA: Yeah.
Q. -- Was there changes in personnel or could you put your finger on it?
BRYAN HERTA: No. I think it is two things. One: I don't think we really were that far off in the first part of the year on the street circuits and road courses. If you look at that, you know, and even like you said Rio where Bobby led the race, I spun early and got back up to third before I had stopped for fuel. So, we had good cars at certain races. But, there is a lot of short ovals in the first half of the season and we frankly haven't had a good handle on those tracks. We are still searching for setup for those. On a good day we can run 5th to 10th. But, that doesn't get it done. You need to be in the top 5, so I think just the composition of the schedule and the fact that we haven't done as well or haven't found a good enough setup on the short ovals for ourselves is probably the biggest factor.
Q. I am wondering, you guys have been so close and that has got to just weigh mentally on you. I am wondering how big an impact do you think winning a race would mean to you, how wig a hump would that put you over?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, I think it is funny because of the team and myself are both in the same sort of situation, you know, we have been close recently a number of times, but that really doesn't get it done and they say that the first one is the toughest and in my case it certainly has been. But, I think that that will definitely relieve some pressure, not that we are letting other people put pressure on us, but I think we are putting pressure on ourselves because, you know, that is why we work so hard and that is why we have the sponsors that we do and we feel like we have got great personnel and great equipment so there is no excuse or no reason why we shouldn't be winning races. I think just the fact that if we can get that monkey off our back, that is going to relieve a lot of the pressure and hopefully that is going to open the flood gates up. That is what we are hoping. What effect it is going to have, for sure, we will have to wait and see. I hope we find out... Soon.
Q. You have won before, Bryan, you have been a winner. Isn't it frustrating sometimes now that you get close but no cigar?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, yeah, definitely. I mean, it is obvious that we want to win races and, you know, when you get close and it is right there for you and then it doesn't happen, there is a let-down or a sense of disappointment, no question about it. But, the challenge, and I think part of being a professional, is to not let that become an influence or a factor and to just have the confidence that if you keep doing what you are doing and you have good people around you, then eventually it is going to work out for you.
Q. Your car owner Bobby plays golf. What do you do to take care of the frustration?
BRYAN HERTA: I don't know, I guess I go running, go work out. It is not -- it is not like I am in the middle of the week beating my head against a wall. I mean, I am very happy because I love this team. I am happy where I am at. I think it is a great series that I am in and so there is a lot of positives. The only thing that is missing is we want to win a race. But that is the same as everybody else. Even you ask a guy like Michael who has won a lot of races and he won one at the beginning of the year but he hasn't won one since then, I am sure that there is a sense of frustration from him and his team that they haven't won more than one race. It never stops. I mean, even if we go out and win the next race, we are going to want to win the next one. You can't -- there is no end to it. So, I guess if you don't find a way to live your life in between the races, it is going to be a pretty tough career.
Q. Could you look at the season as a whole, not from your standpoint, but from the standpoint of the Cup Race and how do you think it is going? Any surprises this year?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, actually, I think it is pretty much, according to what everybody thought, I mean, it is an extremely close championship, closely fought and there is a lot of people in with a chance at it. That is kind of what the idea was at the beginning of the season, the thought was that, you know it is going to be a tough season a tough championship and nobody has been able to really break out or run away with it. So, in that regard, I think it is played out at least to what we expected and I think to what most people expected. Our only disappointment is that we are not in there with them.
Q. When you spoke of optimism a few moments ago you kind of went back and said "But anything can happen." Of course those that follow the series know exactly what you are talking about. Does that second half sometimes overweigh the optimism when you are in a situation to where you might want to take a chance but there is a little click in there that says, you know last year we did this, we got bit, maybe we don't have luck on our side?
BRYAN HERTA: I don't think so. If anything, I think at this point we are on the other side of the fence which is, you know, frankly we are really -- we are not in a fight for the championship anymore and the most important thing for us as a team right now is to try and win a race or win races. So, you know, with that in mind, there is no point in holding anything out. We are not in the championship fight so we might as well go for it and we might as well throw everything we have got at it. I think that is what you saw last weekend with Bobby. He was driving the high line. He was racing hard and he had a shot to win and he wasn't worried about, you know, what was going to happen. He just went for it. I think that is probably more the frame of mind that we are coming from.
Q. When you began this contract with Bobby, both of you talked about the fact that he would be learning from your testing, you would be learning and you said you would be learning from Bobby's experience. What have you learned the most since you have been with Rahal?
BRYAN HERTA: It would be hard for me to pinpoint any specific thing or detail. But, I think there is a certain amount of professionalism that he brings to his driving, as well as to the team and to the people around him. And, I think being around that has been a good influence or a good thing for me. In terms of the driving, one example is when I came to the team I was a right-foot-braker, now I am a left-foot-braker which is what Bobby does. And, it was just a little technique change. It is not a big deal. But it was an adaptation that I made because I saw some things that Bobby could do with it that I couldn't with my style of driving. And, so I started using it and I liked it better. So, you know, there are just any number of little things like that that over the course of time. And, I think it is funny, if you talk to Bobby I think he has changed the way he brakes a little bit too even though he is still left-foot-braker, just by watching the way I do it particularly on the road courses.
Q. Everyone calls you his protege. Do you feel like a protege?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, yeah, I guess -- I don't know the exact definition of a "protege," but certainly when I came to the team, you know, Bobby has got X number of years left that he is going to drive before he becomes a full-time owner and I have X number of years basically to be his teammate before I am going to be put in the position to assume the mantle as team leader. Not that there is not equal status now. I see that a lot -- where people say, you know, "Team Rahal's No. 2 driver." It always kind of irks me, but it isn't the case. But when Bobby finally decides to be owner full time, then the responsibility as a driver to -- you have to be a leader for the team and the people around you, is going to fall on my shoulders even more so than it does now because whoever else comes, this is going to be new to the situation, new to the environment. So, I am going to be -- have to be the guy that the guys know and the guy that keeps everybody up and that everybody looks to.
Q. Take us around the course if you would and where would the optimum places be for passing. You said it is a rhythm course, so I would imagine there should be a fair amount of opportunities.
BRYAN HERTA: Yeah, there are really only two good passing opportunities and really one of them is okay and the other one is good. The first realistic chance to make a pass as you come you out of Turn 1 and you make the climb into the key hole real, realistic which is -- I don't know what the number -- they have got a funny numbering system up there. I don't know the numbers of the corners. But going into there, if you can get your nose in underneath the guy, you can definitely make a move there but you need a little bit of cooperation because the track falls away. And, as it funnel downs, whoever -- you have to work together with the guy your passing otherwise you are both going to end up on the gravel on the side there, on the outside there. And, then the best passing opportunities coming back out of the key hole down the long straight-away, you can draft up along the car, pull out on the inside or outside for breaking into Turn 5 which is the 90 degree right at the end of the back straight, and depending which position he takes, if he wants to take the inside, you can still make the move on the outside because if you can break late enough you can maintain your position around that right-hander and now you have got the inside for the left. So, those are the two classic or best passing opportunities at Mid-Ohio. And, frankly, any of the other ones are pretty optimistic and pretty scares.
Q. Bryan, my experience watching races at Mid-Ohio has been that it is mostly a follow-the-leader-type-of-track just because of the situations we were just describing, limited amount of places to pass. I think more than half of the previous CART winners there have come from the pole position. So, realistically, how far back do you think you could be on the starting grid to have a good chance to win?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, I mean, that is a pretty loaded question because there are so many things that can happen. But assuming that the race is dry, I think you have got to be in the front two rows to go in with a realistic hope of winning that race. That is okay because you know that going into the race. You know that -- people talk about it and some of the guys will complain about it after the race on Sunday. But, the fact remains that we all know going into Friday's first qualifying that that is probably as important or the most important part of our weekend is where we are going to qualify and for that reason, you know, we are going to do whatever we can - not that we don't everywhere else - but with added emphasis on trying to snatch that pole position or certainly a front row start.
T.E. McHALE: Bryan, I guess we will let you go. Thanks again for being with us today. Best of luck in the Miller 200 this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. -. Thanks again to all of you for joining us and we will talk to you next week.
BRYAN HERTA: Okay, thanks for calling in, guys.
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