Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Feature fifteen of my series looking at the grid of the Rockingham 500 in 2001.
My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1979.
Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.
I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However, I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.
The race was won by Gil de Ferran who executed a superb move on the last lap to beat Swede Kenny Brack, with fellow Brazilians Cristiano da Matta and Helio Castroneves finishing third and fourth.
Michael Andretti finished fifth ahead of his teammate Paul Tracy in sixth, with 1996 CART Champion Jimmy Vasser in seventh. The fourth Brazilian in the field Tony Kanaan was eighth ahead of home favourite Dario Franchitti.
Spaniard Oriol Servia rounded out the top ten for Sigma Autosport, while just outside the top ten, Italian Max Papis came home eleventh. After Papis in eleventh was Townsend Bell with his Patrick Racing teammate Roberto Moreno just behind in thirteenth. After the Patrick Racing duo of Bell and Moreno was Canadian Alex Tagliani. After Tagliani was his Forsythe Racing teammate Bryan Herta, who rounded out the top 15.
Bryan Herta was born on the 23rd May 1970 and has become almost the Jos Verstappen of American motorsport, in how he used his success to aid his son on his motorsport journey, his son Colton now a star for Andretti Autosport in the IndyCar championship, emulating his father.
Bryan started racing at a young age before making his single-seater debut in 1990 in the Barber Saab Pro Series, finishing the season fifth, a hugely promising introduction to circuit racing. He remained in the series for 1991, winning the championship by three points ahead of Brit Johnny Robinson, winning four of the twelve races, only failing to finish on the podium twice that year.
Bryan’s fine form ensured he graduated quickly to the IndyLights championship, making his full season debut in 1992 for Landford Racing, again finishing fifth in his first season of a championship, winning once and finishing on the podium a further four times. Like with the Barber Saab Pro Series, he remained in IndyLights for a second season, switching teams to Tasman Motorsports, racing alongside Brit Steve Robinson.
Bryan was able to repeat his feat as he won the IndyLights championship at his second attempt, dominating the championship, beating closest rival Franck Freon by 100 points. He won an incredible seven times in the twelve race season, again, only failing to finish on the podium twice that year.
His highly successful junior career resulted in a promotion to IndyCars, making his series debut in the fourth round of the season at the 78th running of the Indy500. He initially signed with Tasman Motorsports however by the end of the month, that entry was withdrawn and he signed with A.J Foyt Enterprises.
Bryan qualified twenty-second for the race before finishing a superb ninth on his series debut. He continued with A.J. Foyt Enterprises for five races in 1994, before his season was sadly cut short due to injury following a crash at Toronto, in which he suffered a broken femur and pelvis. Bryan returned to the cockpit the following year, contesting his first full season in IndyCars in 1995 for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Sadly however, the partnership did not work out for Bryan or Chip Ganassi as he only finished the season twentieth while his teammate Jimmy Vasser ended the season eighth. Despite a single podium finishing, he switched teams for 1996 to Team Rahal alongside team-owner Bobby Rahal.
The Shell backed driver quickly became a fan favourite and was well known for his speed on road-courses, narrowly missing out on a maiden victory at the season finale at Laguna Seca after Alex Zanardi executed an incredible move around the outside of Bryan at the Corkscrew on the last lap of the race. His first season with Team Rahal saw Bryan finish eight, one spot behind teammate Bobby.
His fine form ensured he remained with the team for the following three seasons, taking his first victory in 1998 at Laguna Seca. 1998 was also Bryan’s most successful season in IndyCar, now renamed CART following the split of premier single seater racing in 1996. Bryan ended the year with a single victory and 97 points, winning for a second time again at Laguna Seca the following season, in what proved to be his last season with Team Rahal.
The turn of the millennium saw Bryan contest a part time season for various teams such as Walker Racing Mo Nunn Racing and Forsythe Championship Racing, for who he stayed with for a full time return in 2001. It was Bryan’s final full season in CART racing before the slow demise of the series in which he ended the season a distant twenty-second, while his teammates Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani finished tenth and eleventh respectively.
Having left CART racing, Bryan switched single seaters for tin tops as he contested the 2002 American Le Mans Series, making his championship debut in the LMP900 category for Panoz Motor Sports alongside Jeff Bucknum and Chris McMurry.
Following the demise of the European Le Mans Series championship the calendar was expanded from eight to ten rounds, with the two round in Europe at Donighton Park and Jarama left out off the calendar. The championship included classic races such as the 12 Hours of Sebring and raced at some of America’s best circuits such as Road America, Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca.
It suited Bryan down to the ground with his circuit racing prowess always being his strength in IndyCar and CART, ensuring he helped Panoz to third in the standings and tenth in the drivers championship. It was a season where Audi dominated, claiming the top two positions in the championship with endurance legends such as Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello, Frank Biela, Johnny Herbert and Emanuele Pirro coming in the top five of the series for Audi.
In what was Bryan’s only season with Panoz before returning single seaters for 2003, he also contested the Le Mans 24 Hours for the only time alongside former F1 drivers Jan Magnuseen and David Brabham however they sadly failed to finished having completed 92 laps before an engine failure.
Following his season away in the American Le Mans Series, 2003 marked Bryan’s debut in the IndyCar Series as well as contesting a single race in the Champ Car series.
Although his Champ Car return was a one off appearance and one of his favourites, Laguna Seca, his IndyCar debut saw him contest all bar four events, although sadly he had to withdraw from a fifth due to injury, that being the Indy500. He contested 2003 with Andretti Green Racing, the team he would see out his IndyCar career with, winning once as well as a further three podiums ensuring he finished the season thirteenth.
His best season for the team came in 2005, when he won his second race for the team, ending the year eighth in the standings, a year he finished a career hight third at the Indy500, having finished fourth the year before.
2005 and into 2006 saw Bryan compete in the inaugural A1 GP Championship for USA, racing in four rounds, with a best result of sixth in Mexico. The USA finished the season, held over the winter months, sixteenth with twenty-three points.
After a final season in IndyCars which saw Bryan finish eleventh, he moved back to the American Le Mans Series for 2007, remaining with Andretti Green Racing, alongside Marino Franchitti in the #26 LMP2 Acura. In their first race together they finished second overall and first in class at the Sebring 12 Hours, eventually finishing the season thirteenth overall with 98 points.
In what would prove to be his final season in motorsport, Bryan remained with Andretti Green Racing in the American L e Mans Series for 2008 again alongside Franchitti, the duo being joined by Christian Fittipaldi for the 12 Hours of Sebring.
His best result that season came at Long Beach when he and Fittipaldi finished sixth overall and fourth in class, before he left the team following the fourth round of the season. Following the fourth race of the season, Brian reared from racing and became a driver coach for Vision Racing, prior to setting up his own IndyLights team, Bryan Herta Autosport, in which he set up a technical alliance with Vision Racing.
His team has since gone from strength to strength and in which he contested his first Indy500 as a team owner in 2010 he incredibly qualified for the race with his IndyLights driver Sebastian Saavedra, in which they qualified 33rd and last on the grid, surfing “Bump Day”. It was a remarkable achievement for Bryan and Sebastian who were running on a shoestring budget. Sebastian also became the first driver to contest the Indy500 who was born in the 1990s. Sadly the fairytale was cut short as Sebastian retired from the race after 100 miles following an early accident.
It was the first appearance of a continuous streak fro Bryan Herta Autosport as the team returned in 2011 with 2005 IndyCar Champion Dan Wheldon, with whom Bryan raced alongside at Andretti Green Racing that year. By 2011, Dan was out of a full-time drive having left Panther Racing at the conclusion of the 2010 season, and spent 2011 testing the new 2012 IndyCar chassis.
Dan’s and Bryan were good friends from their time as teammates and Bryan was able to scramble together enough funds to contest the great race. Bryan was able to lease a 2003 chassis from Sam Schmidt Motorsports for the race and qualified a superb sixth, proof that Dan had lost none of his speed.
Throughout the race, Dan fought for the top places and found himself second heading onto the final lap, only behind rookie J.R Hildebrand. It looked as though the rookie was about to take the chequered flag however he came across the Charlie Kimball’s slow moving car on the inside of turn 4. Hildebrand went high to avoid Kimble however it forced him wide and he slapped the side of the wall on the exit of turn 4, his car skating down the main straight heading towards to the chequered flag without any steering. With just yards to go, Dan was able to pass the wrecked Hildebrand and take his second victory at the Brickyard, leading only the final lap in the process.
It was an amazing race and must surely go down as one of the most dramatic Indy500 endings in history.
Sadly this would be the last race that Dan won.
Following the introduction of the new for 2012 chassis Dallara DW-12 Bryan Herta Autosport signed Canadian Alex Tagliani, another one of Bryan’s former teammates for the 2012 season. The team was renamed Barracuda Racing, following sponsorship from Barracuda Network.
The team’s best finish with Alex in 2012 was fifth before the Canadian was released early from his contract after the thirteenth round of the 2013 season, in which he was replaced by Luca Filippi and Hildebrand, who was released from Panther Racing earlier in the season.
Results did not improve dramatically and the team lost Barracuda sponsorship for 2014, running rookie Brit Jack Hawksworth in the #98 Honda. A single podium was the team’s return that season at Houston before hiring 2014 indyLights champion Gabby Chaves for 2015. It was a successful season for the team and driver combination as Chaves won the Rookie of the Year accolade ensuring ending the season fifteenth overall.
However, money issues were starting to affect Bryan and his team and for 2016, the team’s entry in the IndyCar Series was merged with Andretti Autosport, a partnership for the #98 machine which still runs today.
The first season the merger was in operation saw rookie Alexander Rossi take the Indy500 victory, a drive he held until 2018 when Marco Andretti took over the #98. It is a drive he still holds to this day, and is now teammate to Bryan’s son Colton, who has worked his way up the junior formulas, making his debut in IndyCars in 2019, finishing a superb seventh.
I was lucky to watch some of Colton’s junior career first hand on the backings of British circuits around the country as the young American entered the British MSA Formula Championship for Carlin in which he finished third, only behind Ricky Collard and Lando Norris.
It is great to see the new generation Herta continue the family tradition.
Pictures: www.automobilsport.com, www.snaplap.com, www.abcnews.com, www.motorsportretro.com