CART Media Conference
April 11, 2000
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for being with us this afternoon. Our guest today is Bryan Herta who will compete for Walker Racing in this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach as well as in the April 30th Rio 200 in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. Welcome, Bryan, thanks for being with us this afternoon.
BRYAN HERTA: Thank you T.E.
T.E. McHALE: Bryan will be substituting for the injured rookie driver Shingi Nakano who continues to recover from several small bruises on the brain sustained in a May 31st testing accident at the Milwaukee Mile. Bryan is on loan to Walker Racing from the Forsythe Championship Racing Team with whom he is currently under contract. Bryan is a six-year veteran of the FedEx Championship Series and owns two victories both from the pole at Laguna Seca Raceway in 1998 and 1999 and seven pole positions including one at Long Beach in 1998. He also owns back-to-back third place finishes at Long Beach in '98 and last year when he was driving for Team Rahal. He has made 94 career FedEx Championship Series starts. Bryan and his wife, Janette, recently became parents for the second time with the birth of their son Colton on March 30th. They also have a two-year old daughter, Calysta. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the second round of the FedEx Championship Series, will be broadcast via one-hour tape delay on ESPN on Sunday April 16th, beginning at 5:00 P.M. Eastern time. Before we get started with questions for Bryan, I should mention that he joins us from a test session today so his time with us is somewhat limited. I'd appreciate it if you keep your questions limited to maybe one and a brief follow-up so that everybody on the call who wants to ask Bryan a question will ask him one. With that we will take questions for Bryan.
Q. Recently you were involved in a test with Swift out there at Phoenix. Do you think that that is a chassis that can still be competitive in this series?
BRYAN HERTA: I absolutely think that it is a chassis that can be competitive in this series. I think we were behind the 8-ball - we had a couple of things going against us right from the get-go. No. 1, Swift ended up changing from a Ford to a Honda when they signed with Forsythe in the middle of December. So they basically had to reconfigure the back of the car to take the Honda power plant; then just the lateness of the whole program, I came on board late and we started testing late. The CART testing restrictions were limited on the number of days we could run. So we had a tough road to hoe and we were making progress just not as quickly as anybody would have liked. But I still think that the potential is there for car to be competitive in the future.
Q. Why do you think then that Forsythe dumped using the chassis this year then?
BRYAN HERTA: You'd have to -- I'd say two things: One, Forsythe didn't dump using the chassis and you'd have to ask them.
Q. For those of us who don't kind of parachute in for the CART Series when it gets to Long Beach, tell us how the last six months came to pass when you were starting the season without a ride?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, I didn't start the season without a ride because my ride wasn't going to a racetrack. So it was kind of a bumpy off-season and it has been tough, you know, what I saw over the winter was that there was a lot of interest from teams, but the teams were struggling to find the money to compete and so they are having a hard time to having the money to hire drivers. A lot of the teams were looking at drivers if they could bring some money and I wasn't in a position to do that. So I struggled a little bit to find an opportunity and when this one with Forsythe Championship Racing came about, it was a development program with the Swift chassis and although it started late, I felt like there was good potential there and, unfortunately, the early testing wasn't very good from the outset, we struggled a little bit with the car to understand it and how to make it work and which way it needed to be developed. We weren't really ready for the start of the season when the start of the season happened. So although the reason we didn't go to the first race was because of a franchise dispute that Jerry had with the other team owners and CART, from a competition standpoint, it really was in some ways a bonus for us because it bought us a little more time to try to work with the car and develop it so that when we did debut it we would be able to do a good job which I thought was going to be at Nazareth, but then subsequently the classy was withdrawn from the team so that didn't happen.
Q. How frustrating was it for you to be looking for a ride and facing this situation considering you have done so well on the tour and with Long Beach coming up early, with two-thirds there, I mean, as of last week, I guess you didn't think you were going to be there?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, that is true. I wouldn't say "frustrating" was the word. I mean, in some ways it was nice. I haven't been home this much in the winter with my wife and my family in years because I didn't have a ride, I didn't have any PR appearances to do, I didn't have any testing I had to go out and do and I did get to spend some time at home. I actually enjoyed that part of it so when it was time to get back in the car I was really fired up. I felt my batteries were really recharged to go do it. All throughout the winter, although things weren't signed, there was always interest. I was talking to several different teams so there were always things on the burner so I always felt like I didn't know which direction it would go, but I always felt like something was going to work out. So I wasn't really hanging on the edge of my seat. But I would have definitely preferred for it to have happened a little sooner than when it did happen.
Q. After talking to you yesterday I assume you have been in the seat. How is it working out with the Reynard for you? We talked about that last night.
BRYAN HERTA: Yeah, I am quite pleased. Obviously we have got a lot of issues here with me being new to the team, so there is a lot of personality things that -- that is the most important thing we are really working on here is just working together as a group and them learning a little bit about how I want the car and me learning about how they work with the car. So that is the main thing we are doing out here, but we are also tuning with the chassis and this is my first run with a 2000 Reynard. I am very pleased with the progress we have made so far. We have just broken for lunch; we have done about 50 or 60 laps, I think, and we are going pretty quickly and feel like there is definitely more to come. So I am pretty pleased with the progress we have got to date.
Q. Was it an easier transition to the Reynard than you thought or were there more surprises in it with the new design?
BRYAN HERTA: No, very similar -- you know, they are all very similar. I mean, when you are talking about a half a second or a second in lap time over an entire track, I mean, the degree of change is probably smaller than what you might imagine. But it does behave differently and -- the biggest thing, it feels different - the steering wheel position is a little different, the shift knob is in a different spot; your seating position changes a little so -- when you drive a car a lot those things all become second nature, just becomes natural. And then when you have to change that, it takes a few laps to become comfortable again or to really feel at home in the environment.
Q. You will run two races with Walker?
BRYAN HERTA: Right.
Q. Then what?
BRYAN HERTA: Good question. (laughs) I don't know.
Q. Are you nervous about that?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, I am. I think I have to look at it a couple of different ways. No. 1, my year is shot, you know, there is no way to compete for the Championship or to realistically look at anything like that because even if we get -- even if Forsythe gets cars now and we were able to enter competition, say, at Motegi which would be the first race that I am available to drive again for them, even at that, turning up four or five races into a season with a brand new car against guys that have been testing all winter and have got four, five races under their belts is not your ideal situation. But Jerry has reassured me that we are going to go racing and I don't know in what form or when that is going to be. I can tell you that the team is still completely intact; that nothing has been disbanned on the team personnel-wise and they are all sitting at the shop anxiously awaiting word on when they can get their hands on a race car and get it ready so we can go racing again.
Q. Is there extra pressure on you at Long Beach this weekend?
BRYAN HERTA: No, I don't feel so. They are all big races. It is hard to say that -- I think if you let your guard down and think one is not as important as the others, then you just -- you are just opening yourself up to a whole bunch of problems. But, if anything, I look forward to Long Beach maybe a little more because it is my favorite race, as I have said before, it is the one I went to as a kid and really fell in love with IndyCars and always wanted to race in the Long Beach Grand Prix, so I don't look at that as pressure. I am living out a dream in a way so it is a nice feeling to go there.
Q. Can you comment a little bit about what is working with the team right now and what is not?
BRYAN HERTA: What do you mean?
Q. As far as how the car feels, as far as how you are getting used to your crew, I mean, what are the good things and what are the bad things?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, the good things are -- I have got a fair amount of experience in these cars and the Walker Team has a lot of experience, so individual of each other, none of this is new to us. So it is more a case of us working together for the first file. There is little communication things that as time goes on, you start to know each other better, it gets a little easier. So I think it is just the unknown of not having worked together quite as much yet. That would probably be the negative, things like we have never done a pit spot together and all those communications and things that happen during a pit spot are important, but they are not insurmountable either and I think that the experience the team has an experience I have hopefully will allow us, to a large extent, overcome those disadvantages.
Q. You are on loan to a team that does have the capability of winning and you said that you don't really feel a lot of pressure because, really, the pressure is off going into a race for you but at the same time, what is your motivation for this race? I have got to think that if you do have a real good performance, you are going to show -- open up a few eyes out there.
BRYAN HERTA: (laughs) Yeah, it is a fickle business, and you put up a couple of good strong races and you have been around for six years, but suddenly everybody has opened their eyes to you again. So I am aware of that. But that is the game too, I mean, it doesn't -- it doesn't change. I think my motivation really is to try and go out and win the race. If I didn't feel like that was possible then I wouldn't have agreed to do this. That is what it's all about and that is what these guys want to do here at the team and that is what I want to do, so I am not going to say that that is what we are going to do because certainly it is not as good a situation as had we been testing together all winter and had that time to work with the setup on the car and work together, but having said that I am not willing to dismiss and accept that, well, if we finish in the Top-10 that is good enough.
Q. You and I go back a long way and we have talked a number of times. In general, how - for lack of a better word - ticked off were you that other drivers who didn't have the talent that you had got ride, when a guy like you who has talent, experience didn't get a good ride this year?
BRYAN HERTA: I guess, you know, a little bit of frustration on that. But you kind of got to take your breaks as they come in this thing and if anybody is proof of that, it is a guy like Roberto Moreno who was down and out for a long time and he had driven for some good teams in the past and then was scraping through and suddenly he is in a good situation again and he is doing a good job. So it is a fickle business and there is a lot that goes into performance on the racetrack, not just the driver alone or the team alone. There is a whole, sort of, complex equation there that goes into it. So I think you just have to look at it as taking your opportunities when they come in. I think probably the thing I should say is that what I really wanted to do was stay in CART and which I have been able to do. I have had opportunities over the last several years and certainly over this winter to do a lot of different types of things so it wasn't like Bryan Herta couldn't still be a race car driver. But it was looking to I would be able to race in CART anymore. That is what I was hoping really to be able to do. And now when Steve Horne departed the Forsythe team and then here was Swift, what could have potentially been a pretty good year, has kind of turned into an I am just going to try and make as much out of it as I can. I have got this opportunity for the next two races and it is a good opportunity, so I am not trying to look too far behind that right now. I am going to try to do a great job right now in these next two races and put a lot of pressure on Jerry to go out and get me a car.
Q. Could you just talk briefly about how all this opportunity came about? Did Derrick approach you directly? Did you see an opportunity out there and did you go chasing it yourself?
BRYAN HERTA: No, I didn't. I think the way it happened was that Derrick contacted some -- either Jerry or someone in his organization and asked if that would be okay for him to contact me. And also Honda gave their blessing which is important because I guess I am part of the Honda family now having been testing over the winter with the Forsythe Team which has the Honda and this being a Honda engine car, so I think those two parties together kind of approached me and gave me the opportunity or offered me the opportunity. It made nothing but sense. I am hoping that I will be -- it will help me out because it will get me out racing and hopefully can do a good job and put up some good performances and it helps them out in the short team here to keep them racing while Shinji is healing up so he can come back.
Q. Here we have a team which currently has a new chassis and new sponsor, temporarily a new driver. When you go back there what do you see as the future of Forsythe Championship Racing and where do you fit into that future if there is one?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, I can't tell you in the short-term specifically, I don't know. I don't see a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow sponsorship-wise. I think it is going to be -- the season is going to be tough and it is going to be up to really Jerry deciding what he wants to do. He has given me his personal assurances that he is going to take care of me this year and that if I stay loyal and stay true to him that I will have a place if I want with his organization. I am taking him at face value on that and waiting to see what happens.
Q. You talked a little bit about the frustrations of the off-season. It looked like you were going to have a deal trying to get together with Gurney; then your name was associated with Mo Nunn. Everything that was said was attached to the idea of sponsorship. Why is it that you and other American drivers seem to be having trouble locating and securing, in your view, necessary sponsorships when they are younger and less accomplished drivers, you have won races and what not, but foreign drivers, they are able to come in with the money and displace guys like yourself, why do you think that is?
BRYAN HERTA: I don't know the absolute answer, but I think one thing is I think that by and large, most of the sponsor dollars here in the United States that are going towards motor racing seem to be going to NASCAR, so I don't think it is so much the American drivers are having a hard time finding sponsorship is that -- that is true but also the teams are finding a hard time raising the sponsorship on their own. So they are being put in the position where they have a choice to make -- either they cannot compete or they can compete with the guys who has got -- they have got some sponsorship; driver brings some sponsorship and it is enough to make a budget and to go compete. So you can't blame the teams for doing what they have to do to stay alive, but I think that it is just an overall problem within CART that if maybe if the series were a little stronger it will be a little easier to lure some new sponsors, some new names into the sport. That is kind of what seems like what we have been missing, there haven't been a lot of big names coming in recently. Most of the ones that are there that have been there for several years and have continued to support it. Right now I am not seeing the new sponsors coming in.
Q. You mentioned Jerry's promise. I understand he has told you that if he gets his franchise that you certainly will be racing with him next season. Do you think that is likely or is this one of these things where it seems a little bit hollow considering the way things have been coming down?
BRYAN HERTA: I have to take Jerry's word. He has basically made the commitment to me and I am -- I am willing to ride it out and I am willing to see what happens. I am not willing to wait until next year. I don't want to not race all year. I don't want to do these two race and just sit around and I don't really want to be in the position where he is loaning me out to different teams. This is a good opportunity because I am able to help Walker out. I am able to help Honda out and I am gaining experience in what looks like it would be the chassis engine combination that we will have later in the season. So it makes sense right now but my intention is not to just sit around all winter or all season and continue to be loaned out with the hopes of looking towards next year. I mean, I fully expect we are going to be back racing at some point this year and that is what I want.
T.E. McHALE: With that, we need to let Bryan get back in the race car, so we want to ask you to please forgive us for not taking an open round of questions as we usually do on these calls. Bryan, thanks for being with us today and thanks to Derrick Walker for working with us to arrange this call. It is good to have you back. Best of luck in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend. We hope to see you frequently during the remainder of the FedEx Championship Series season.
BRYAN HERTA: Thank you very much.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who joined us this afternoon. We will talk to you next week.
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