Bryan Herta stands along pit row during a Verizon IndyCar Series race earlier this year. Born in Southfield, he is the strategist and co-owner of the No. 98 Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport.

Bryan Herta stands along pit row during a Verizon IndyCar Series race earlier this year. Born in Southfield, he is the strategist and co-owner of the No. 98 Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport.

Photo provided by Chris Owens/IndyCar

Herta cherishes his time at Belle Isle

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published June 11, 2018

DETROIT — The Verizon IndyCar Series stretches for six months, featuring 17 races across North America.

For Bryan Herta, the annual trip to Belle Isle is circled on the calendar, serving as a highlight on a long schedule. It gives the longtime racing veteran a chance to compete in his former backyard in what he calls one of the most fun and challenging tracks on the circuit.

“I’ve got a lot of memories here — it’s definitely one of my favorite stops,” Herta said while sitting on the back of the No. 98 Honda hauler June 1. “It’s great to be out here on Belle Isle and race with Detroit right in the background. This is really one of the most beautiful and scenic places we race at.”

Born in Southfield, Herta lived in Warren and later Mount Clemens until he was 10 years old. His father, Tom, followed his job to California, taking the young aspiring racer out west. Despite only spending his first decade of life in Michigan, Herta said it made quite an impression on him.

“My dad grew up here and he still loves the Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons and Lions, and sort of made me a fan of them too,” Herta said. “I remember my dad taking me out to Michigan (International Speedway) to see IndyCar and NASCAR races. We’d go out to the old Mount Clemens fairgrounds for races, too.”

Herta’s racing career spanned nearly two decades, winning the Barber Saab Pro Series title in 1991 and the Indy Lights championship in 2003. He raced for the likes of Chip Ganassi, A.J. Foyt and Michael Andretti, competing in five Indy 500 contests.

Additionally, Herta raced in the CART Championship and American Le Mans Series. He placed third in the 2005 Indy 500 and recorded his final career series win as a driver in the 2005 race at Michigan International.

After retiring in 2008, he created his own team, Herta Autosport. In 2011, the team won the Indy 500 with Dan Wheldon and again in 2016 with Alexander Rossi.

Herta currently serves as the strategist and co-owner of the No. 98 machine driven by Marco Andretti, the son of legendary driver Michael, who serves as the other half of ownership.

“Believe it or not, it’s been a decade since I stopped racing, but it doesn’t seem like it,” Herta explained. “I really enjoy what I get to do now. They give me lots of stuff to do, and I like to try and bring some of the experience I have as a driver to this role. I hope it helps not just the 98, but the entire team in general.”

Officially under the banner of Andretti Herta Autosport, Marco Andretti’s No. 98 vehicle placed fourth in the June 2 race and ninth in the June 3 contest of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, presented by Lear. 

“It’s a great team to be a part of,” Herta said. “Obviously, Michael is a legend in the racing community, a pillar of this sport. It’s great for me to get to partner with him.”

Under the watchful eye of Herta, Marco Andretti earned the pole for the first race, running a 1:14.8514 lap around the 2.3-mile street course, the fastest time by any driver all weekend in both qualifying sessions.

As the strategist, Herta stands atop the team’s timing stand along pit row and is in constant communication with his driver out on the raceway.

“I talk to Marco on the radio, helping keep him calm when he needs it and giving advice and encouragement when that is needed as well,” Herta said. “I help call the pit strategy and work with the engineering team all weekend. I’m watching the race, adapting to what’s happening, and figuring out what we need to do with fuel economy and tires.”

Herta said the asphalt and concrete of Belle Isle that withstand Michigan’s winters present a unique challenge.

“One of the biggest things I have to decide on is whether or not to stop on a yellow and what changes we’ll make on a pit stop,” Herta explained. “Every track has its own unique things, but (Belle Isle) is very interesting from a strategy standpoint, because the tire degradation can be quite high. You can try and do it on only two pit stops, but then you’re out there on older tires for longer. You can go for three stops, but you have to figure out (how) to manage that.”

Herta calls on his own experience of rocketing around the island. He competed in the 1992 race after it moved from a circuit in Detroit’s midtown to the island. In 1993 he won the Indy Lights contest on Belle Isle, and in 1994 he earned just his third career IndyCar start for Foyt. He also ran in the IMSA series for Michael Andretti in an Acura.

“I’m one of the few guys who has raced in every iteration of the course here,” Herta said. “I have a lot of great memories on this island, and I love coming back. I’ve had a chance to sample a few different cars here, and I feel like it gives me an advantage. When Marco tells me what the car is doing through a particular corner, I can relate to it and put myself in that position.”

While the No. 98 is the only entry Herta owns in IndyCar, his team is represented by two Hyundai vehicles in the Pirelli World Challenge in the circuit’s new TCR class. At press time, his team had won four of the first six races and was leading the series in points. 

“I’m happy to be (doing) what I’m doing now,” Herta said. “I’m 48, so I’m not itching to start a second career as a driver again. I had my career, and I’m very grateful for it.”

Belle Isle offers a competitive trip around memory lane and a bit of a respite.

“To come back here is a really nice thing. It still feels very much like a home race. I still have a ton of aunts, uncles and cousins from the area,” he said. “I usually see a few guys from the old neighborhood come out. Seeing them is always fun, and it always makes for a nice weekend.”