INDIANAPOLIS -- Bryan Herta knows he doesn't have a ride
in the Indianapolis 500, but he took his first laps around the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1995 on Wednesday when he
filled in for Robby Gordon.
Gordon was in California at a personal appearance for Cingular
Wireless, his sponsor on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, and was
unable to drive one of Andretti/Green Racing's Dallara/Hondas
during practice. Herta will drive in Indy Racing League IndyCar
Series races at Texas Motor Speedway and Pikes Peak
A former CART driver, Herta last competed in the Indianapolis
500 for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing in 1995. He was a rookie at
Indy for team owner A.J. Foyt in 1994.
Wednesday marked the first time Herta has driven an IRL car.
"These cars are a lot like the CART cars in 1995 and 1996 and
they were a lot of fun on the ovals," Herta said. "This is a
very good piece."
Herta is listed as a backup driver for Gordon, who would turn
over the car if the Indy 500 is delayed by rain on May 25 and
Gordon has to return to Lowe's Motor Speedway in North Carolina.
"I don't even consider having a shot at Indy," Herta said. "To
hope for rain is not good. I'm looking at this as getting ready
for Texas as my first race. I'm at Indy, but I'm getting ready
for Texas right now."
Herta was part of the ill-fated CART race at Texas Motor
Speedway in 2001, when series officials said speeds were too
fast and the race was canceled. He had qualified fourth.
"I thought it was fun, it was a lot of fun," Herta said. "You
have to remember what you are doing there and take care of each
other out there. But I'm a race car driver and I'm not good to
anybody unless I'm racing the car.
"The important thing is to get in good cars with good equipment.
I'm stepping into a situation here in a car that can and
should run up front. It's up to me to try to achieve the best
results with it."
Herta is one of many talented drivers who is out of a ride.
Because of a poor economy, there are fewer opportunities for
some top drivers to get a competitive ride in Indy car racing.
"That's an excuse and I don't want to use excuses," Herta said.
"I know what I can do and I can run a car up front. This is a
chance to prove that. I feel like I fit in very quickly."
Herta was contacted by team owner Michael Andretti. His team
has a four-car effort at the Indianapolis 500, with Andretti,
Gordon, Tony Kanaan and rookie Dan Wheldon. The team takes up
nearly a full row of garages at Gasoline Alley to house its 10
"This team is unbelievable. I don't know many teams in racing
that can handle this type of program without getting confused,"
Herta drove 53 laps Wednesday with a top speed of 225.380 miles
"I'm nervous because I haven't driven here since 1995 and driven
an open-wheel car in over a year," he said. "I'm sure in a lap
or two all the old feelings will come back."
Waiting on his reward
Jeff Ward is another driver who has won
an Indy car race but is walking the garage area at the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, looking for a ride.
Ward won last June at Texas Motor Speedway for his first Indy
"I have a lot of high hopes, I feel I have the credentials to be
here," he said. "This is the first time I've ever been in this
position. I've been here seven years and didn't make the race
in 1995. The last six years, I've had a ride. I don't know how
to approach this.
"People know I'm here and if there is a car to get in, I want
them to know it."
Ward raced for Target/Chip Ganassi last year as the team's lone
IRL driver while two other drivers competed in CART. When the
team decided to leave CART for a two-car IRL effort, Tomas
Scheckter and Scott Dixon were chosen as drivers.
"It was a good opportunity and I wish I were still there, but I
wasn't the guy that Toyota wanted," Ward said. "I won't know
anything until after Pole Day. There needs to be 33 cars in
this race, I believe. If that's the case, I'll be in one. If
they only want 29, then I have a problem."
The irony is that in the year that Ward won his first Indy car
race, he ended up being released from his ride.
"I was hoping with the injuries that happened to some of these
drivers, they would have called me," Ward said. "But the former
CART teams have called CART drivers. They didn't follow the
IRL and don't really know much about me. Hopefully, I can go
out there and prove myself. I just want the opportunity to run
against these guys in equal equipment."