Herta team to use Honda engines

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bryan Herta will try to win this year's Indianapolis 500 with the same engine that took him to Victory Lane last year -- Honda.

A little more than two weeks after Herta's team was released from its contract with engine-manufacturer Lotus, Bryan Herta Autosport announced it would use Honda engines for the rest of this season. The move comes two days before practice opens for the 500 and a little more than two weeks before the May 27 race.

"My time as a Honda driver in both the IndyCar Series, as well as the time spent driving factory Acura LMP2 in the American Le Mans Series, were among my most rewarding and memorable years in racing," Herta said. "So it is with great personal pleasure that we are returning to the Honda family for the remainder of the 2012 season."

The move revved up hope among team members that they can defend the 500 title after a slow start in 2012.

Problems had been mounting for Herta and Lotus.

Driver Alex Tagliani failed to complete a lap at Alabama because of a bad throttle, then dropped out after completing only 46 of 85 laps at Long Beach because the engine overheated. The team then skipped Sao Paulo as it shopped for a new engine-manufacturer. Tagliani's best finish this season was 15th in the season-opener at St. Petersburg.

While the Honda engines have been more competitive than those from Lotus, Chevrolet has dominated the early-season results. Roger Penske's team has driven Chevy to wins in each of the first four races this season.

But Honda will now have 15 cars trying to make the 33-car Indy field, including Tagliani's No. 98 car. The late Dan Wheldon drove that number into Victory Lane for Herta last season after passing race leader JR Hildebrand in the front straightaway. Hildebrand crashed on the final turn of the last lap. Wheldon was killed in October in a crash at Las Vegas.

"We're pleased to be able to renew our relationship with Bryan Herta and his team," said Steve Eriksen, vice president of Honda Performance Development. "His team's victory in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 was the stuff of legend, and all of us at HPD and American Honda are delighted to have a hand in helping him defend that championship."

It's also another setback for a Lotus team that has struggled mightily all season.

After getting a later start than its two competitors and producing sub-par results, teams that had been complaining started leaving.

Lotus released Herta's team and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing from their contracts April 24, and now it's facing a lawsuit from Dragon Racing, which is owned by Penske's son, Jay. The filing seeks $4.6 million, claiming Lotus has damaged the reputation of the two-car team that features drivers Sebastien Bourdais of France and Katherine Legge of England.

As Jay Penske looks for new engines, it was unclear whether Legge, a rookie, would try to pass her rookie test Thursday like the other seven first-time Indy drivers.

The departure of all three teams leaves Lotus with only one driver still using its engine to qualify for the 500 -- Switzerland's Simona De Silvestro, who works for the one-car team of HVM Racing.

A Lotus spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.