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Indy Car Racing Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Car Racing Media Conference

Bryan Herta
February 14, 1994

JOHN PROCIDA: Thank you for joining us today. We have two of the hottest young drivers off the IndyCar Circuit with us, Gil de Ferran and Bryan Herta. Now, we will start with Bryan Herta. Bryan, of course, was the 1993 Indy Lights Champion and is entering his first full season with the Target/Ganassi Racing Team. Questions for Bryan.

Q. You have been running pretty well in testing on the ovals and the road courses and both your team owner Chip Ganassi and Tom Anderson seem to be quite pleased; pleasantly surprised with how well you have done. How would you assess things so far, Bryan?

BRYAN HERTA: I am pretty happy with the way we have been running in the testing so far; at least on the basis of last times, I think we have been fairly competitive, but it scares me a little bit at the same time because I know last year this time the Penskes weren't showing their hand and I wonder how many of the other teams aren't yet showing what they can do. So you know, I go into Miami not really knowing exactly where we stand. I think we have got to get to the first race and see who is really running where.

Q. What are your general feelings about the car? Obviously, you raced the Lola last year; it was a different car, but it was your first IndyCar season; how would you assess the car, the new Raynard, itself, Bryan?

BRYAN HERTA: I definitely feel that the new Raynard is an improvement. It is a small improvement over last year's Raynard which I did a little bit of testing with early this winter, and it is definitely better than last year's Lola was. However, I don't know how much progress Lola has made this season, so you know, I think the car is capable of doing the job. I think Gil said it, you know, really well, when he said if you can find the balance on this car, I think you can be competitive, and it seems to be a fairly friendly car that way. You can find the setup that will work with the car without chasing yourself around too much; which is one of the things I noticed last year with the Lola. It is going to be down to each team then to make the most of it.

Q. Bring us up-to-date on your physical recovery and whether or not you have done any extended lap test; if the distance has any effect on you, physically, at this point?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, happy to report that I am really totally recovered in terms of racing. I can't run or play basketball yet, but I wasn't very good at that before I got hurt, so not a big change there. In terms of the car, I was really pleased right from the very first test I did with the car. I never noticed any pain or any discomfort at all from my leg and I think that came from waiting a little longer than I really wanted, to get started again in the car. I felt like I wanted to do Nazareth last year; was when I thought I was ready to do racing and Dr. Trammell and a couple of doctors didn't exactly agree with me, so we waited a little bit and I think that has really paid off now. Looking at the big picture, you know, I haven't had any problems running with my leg and we have run some longer runs; not full fuel stints, but I don't know anticipate any problems. If you can sit in the car all day and test it at PIR and not have too many problems, I think that I should be fine.

Q. Perhaps as a quick followup, what is your physical training program like now and what will you be doing through the season just to help bring your recovery along?

BRYAN HERTA: My training program now is basically back to what I would call normal or back to what I was this time last year; just try and stay relaxed; go to the gym a few days a week; do some cycling and some riding. That has helped out a lot, and every time I can get in the car, that is going to be good for me too which has been good this season having done a number of test days. So I don't do anything special for any part of my body now. I am pretty well balanced out where I just kind of work again on my overall fitness.

Q. In talking over the years with the number of athletes that have gone through extensive injuries where they have had to go through rehab, they have always told me that they set a focal point to shoot for. Have you done that in your rehab and, if so, what is it?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, I think the focal point I set when I -- almost immediately after the injury was to get ready to race for Laguna Seca last season, and I achieved that. I was cleared to race at Laguna, and once I knew I had the program with Chip Ganassi coming, I elected not to do that race but the key for me was just to get to position where I can race at Laguna if I wanted to and really from here on out now, my goals are not specific to my injury or anything like that. I just I want to race hard and love to win a race or two this year. That is really my goals now.

Q. My question is when you got injured like that, was that the lowest point that you had been in your racing career? I know you had a real high point when you won the Indy Lights Championship with Steve Horne; you had got all that good input out there; things were up creek, as you will -- how good does it make you feel that you are back now?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, that is really not the lowest point in my career. The lowest point in my career was without a question right after when I won Championship and the frustration of not being able to land a ride the following season - I did miss the first three races of the year; that was the low point for me and getting the opportunity with A.J. was really a great blessing for me; finally getting an opportunity to drive and the injury -- I guess I always looked at it as, I guess, I was unlucky is the way I would characterize it. I don't really know what happened in the accident exactly, and I am okay with that, but from that point on, I never really sat back and looked backwards. I just wanted to get better again and I wanted to improve and when I got physically to where I knew I was going to be able to race this season, I started looking around for different opportunities and when Chip offered me to drive for his team, I jumped at it because I really felt that this was -- they have a great program and they have a lot of support from great sponsors and that is going to be, I think, a real advantage for me this year. This is the best situation I have been in.

Q. When you were looking for opportunities for the '95 season, was it different than when you were looking for those same opportunities after winning the Indy Light Series?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, yeah, it really was. I think the Indy Light Series got me that boost to where people were looking at me, but having done the five races with A.J. and run fairly well in a couple of them, I think that gelled in peoples' minds, well, yeah, he can drive an Indy Lights Car and looks like he can drive in IndyCar too, and I think it is one of those things that feeds itself; when one person starts talking about you; looking at you; then everyone else is, "well, what are they looking at? what is there?" and then the focus shifts to you a little bit and that -- I think I just had some momentum at that point coming off the races with A.J.; that really gave me the boost I needed.

Q. Share with us your perspective - you talked about the frustration of not being able to secure an IndyCar ride after winning the Championship. We look at Steve Robertson's situation which is somewhat similar this year. Give us your opinion about the stepping stone process in IndyCar and maybe what you have learned through that process and how could that be changed for the better in the future?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, that is a loaded question. I don't know where to start with that one. It is a difficult transition - there is no question about it, but IndyCar is the premier level and it should be the brass ring-- it should be something that you have to reach out for and want it bad to really persevere and go after that and that -- I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. How the transition from Indy Lights to IndyCar can happen better, I am not really sure. The IndyCar owners are in a slightly difficult situation in that they have got a lot of big-time sponsors and a lot of people behind them who want to see and experience known quantity in the car and when you pick a guy out of Indy Lights, there is an element of risk involved, they don't always make the transition the way you think they are going to. There is a lot of money involved to be taking chances. So I can see both sides of what is going on and I don't know what the answer is.

Q. Coming away from that situation with a new Lola, I am sure that had some value to other teams as well as some of the bonuses. You must have felt like about December you had some really nice things to offer to an opportunity.

BRYAN HERTA: Yeah, no question, the Indy Light series is doing their part to try and help everybody out, you know, particularly, the champion to move into it and I know this year Firestone has put some money in for their champion as well, so it is a little added sweetener to go with the car, but you know, I think still the teams that have the budgets can go out and buy a car if they want it and they don't need it, but at the same time, you know, the advantage Lola would give the guys, there are teams out there that is a big plus for them; be able to come to the team with a car is going to just increase your value of beyond just the driving.

Q. What was the toughest transition from the Firestone Indy Light series to IndyCar?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, a couple of things. I think one of the things was the strategy of the race and that is maybe something, you know, Gil is going to learn about this season because I know 3000 runs very similar to Indy Lights where, you know, we just -- the grey flag drops and you run as hard as you can until the checkered flag falls and there is no pit stops and no strategy and no fuel windows dose or any of that type of thing to enter in so now there's more things to concentrate on; more things to think about and you have to kind of keep your head about you; keep track of what is going on outside of the car besides just driving it as hard as you can. You have still got to do that. You have got this added aspect; you have got to have some dialogue with the team and you got to really concentrate on what the car is doing because now, you can make changes; you can call in and say, well, my car is not handling well; this is what it is doing and talk about improving it through the race. That is probably the biggest change I found. The other obvious one is the horsepower that you get used to that pretty quick and by about the fifth lap you push the pedal all the way down to the floor and you wish it could go faster; still you never get much of that, though.

Q. Is it really a mental exercise that you have to go through to prepare for a season?

BRYAN HERTA: Yeah, but more -- some of it you can't just prepare for. Some of it you have to be out there and go through the situation and learn it. It is not something that a lot -- a lot of -- it is not something that somebody can tell you. You have to be out there and you have to be under the situation and you have to be coming off turn 4 when the yellow comes out and you don't have enough time to make a decision to call in for a decision; you have got to decide whether you are ducking in the pits or staying out for a lap under yellow and those type of things, I think, is where the experience really comes into play.

Q. I know we are doing this a little bit late, wondering can you talk a little bit about how testing has been going and I understand you are going to be in Seabring the end of this week or next; how things are going along that way and kind of getting that feel back after everything that happened last year?

BRYAN HERTA: Yeah, I think the testing has been going well. We have had our share of troubles unfortunately we have caught some bad weather and that held us up on a few of our test days, but I think that has been a theme this winter. There has been some bad weather floating around. The days we have done, I think, have been very good. We are definitely making progress with the car which is, to me, the most important thing. As long as we keep improving the car each time we go to a test; it is better than the last time we have finished, then we must be doing the right thing.

Q. When was your first test again? When did you first start?

BRYAN HERTA: I first tested in November out in mid Ohio with the '94 car, but we started our series testing with the '95 car January 2 out in Seabring, and we have run Firebird and Seabring in PIR and we are going back to Seabring again for Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week; we are going to run three more days.

Q. Do you have, by chance, Toronto circled on your calendar for whatever reason?

BRYAN HERTA: No. No. I don't think about the place or anything any differently. I still like the track and actually Andrew Craig and Roger Bailey came to visit me shortly after the accident and one of the things I made a point to tell them was, you know, I don't want you to go changing the track or making-- doing, you know -- making any rash decisions just based on this one incident because I think Toronto is one of the best circuits we go to and I think that corner is a good corner. I am not worried about going back there. Everybody that gets in the racing car knows that there is an element there of danger and risk and you are -- you just kind of have to put that out of your mind. I think if I got in the car and thought about it every time I sat down, I would have to go, you know, get another job because I couldn't do this that way.

Q. Would it be extra special to do extra good there this year maybe --

BRYAN HERTA: I'd like to do extra good every year. Toronto has always been good to me. I have won both Indy Lights races I have ran there. You know, I like the circuit and for whatever reason, it is one of the circuits that I have done well on in the past, but you know, I wouldn't like to do well there anymore than I would anywhere else. Right now I'd like to do well in Miami and when Miami is done then I go on; that is the kind of way I am looking at it.

Q. Let us change subjects a little bit; talk about your testing. Last year the Ganassi team really carried the load for testing Raynard and for the other teams that were supported and supplied by Raynard. Has that changed this year and how much of your testing information feedback goes to the other Raynard teams?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, I think the fact that we are a Raynard factory team with Raynard, it works a little differently than it does with some other manufacturers and it is more now this year because there is more teams and there is more people out to do the testing; that the teams end up working together a little bit and not necessarily directly with each other, but Raynard keeps a tab on what everybody is doing and I think if somebody finds something that is a big improvement then that gets filtered through -- gradually through the other teams. So I don't think we are doing testing for everyone else, per se, anymore than anyone else is doing it for us.

Q. Can you talk little bit about the tire wars and what kind of impact you think that is going to have on the series.

BRYAN HERTA: It is going to be interesting and I hope in a good way. I think it will be. Obviously, we are with GoodYear and so GoodYear versus Firestone, it is going to bring an element to the series that -- I don't know if it will have an impact on spectatorwise; whether that will make it more interesting for the fans. I hope it will do that. Competitionwise, it is hard to tell. It looks like Firestone has really done a good job so far in the testing and that they have produced a competitive tire to come to IndyCar with, and I think there is definitely going to be some tracks this year where they are going to be really tough to live with. Having said that, you know, GoodYear has got the experience behind them and I kind of think this season at least, you know, over the longhaul, their experience is going to make a little bit of a difference and I think on balance, I hope they are going to be a little better.

Q. Which tracks specifically do you think Firestone will do a little bit better; not necessarily better than GoodYear, but --

BRYAN HERTA: Hard to tell, especially later in the season because the tires that will run later in the season haven't even been thought of yet. So it is going to depend on how much information they are getting from their teams and how much information GoodYear is getting from their teams and who can develop the tires better, quicker. I don't know how it is going to -- I know Firestone is making a big push for the Indianapolis 500, so I look for them to really pull out all the stops there. At the same time GoodYear it is an important race for GoodYear too. All I can say for sure, I hope good years are better.

Q. Last year in Winston Cup it seemed like the drivers really got involved in the verbal battle over the tire wars and between GoodYear and Hoosier. From a driver's perspective, how do you feel about it and do you see the possibility of that part of the battle spilling over into Firestone and GoodYear?

BRYAN HERTA: I don't know. I think that if one side is significantly less competitive than another, that it is going to become a little bit verbal because it is just the frustration of going to the racetrack and expecting to do well and if you are prevented from doing that, you are going to vent a little bit, but I don't know, NASCAR and IndyCar are different. I think the drivers are different and the way we approach things are a little different and I don't know how it is going to come out. I think it is going to be a topic of discussion all season. I think it is going to be something that comes up a lot and you know, if everybody is competitive; then everyone will be happy and if someone is not, then someone is going to be really unhappy.

Q. Are you afraid that safety maybe sacrificed because of the tire war?

BRYAN HERTA: Not afraid. I hope that that is not going to become an issue, and both companies have a lot at stake. I know they are both going to be pushing the limits as hard as they can because they are competing against each other as well as against the other teams, and so they are going to make the best most competitive tire they possibly can while staying just on the side of their safety boundary. But at the same time, I think everybody realizes that they are going to be pushing themselves a little harder just like if the drivers pushes a little harder in the race you open yourself up a little bit more to risk. But nobody wants that. That is not good for the sport. It is not good for the drivers, obviously, and it is not good for anything. So I think that the tire companies have more to lose than to gain by creating a situation where they are making things more dangerous.

JOHN PROCIDA: Bryan, I want to thank you for being with us today and all the members of the media, I want to thank you for joining in. Just a reminder Michael Andretti will be with us next week and if you have any questions, please give us a call at the IndyCar offices and again, thank you for joining us today.

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