IndyCar: Herta focused on building future with Chaves before expanding


Each of the last three seasons, Bryan Herta has entered the year with a different driver or engine than he did at the previous season opener.

And 2015 is no different. But ideally for the single-car Bryan Herta Autosport team, it will be the beginning of a longer-term, more continuous relationship between team and driver.

Alex Tagliani drove a Lotus powerplant for BHA for the team’s first full-time season in 2012. A year later, Tagliani entered with a Honda engine. Jack Hawksworth was the surprise pick to start 2014, emerging ahead of Tagliani’s replacements JR Hildebrand and Luca Filippi.

Now this year, it’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Gabby Chaves who’s starting the year in the No. 98 Dallara-Honda, and Herta hopes this is the start of a longer period together.

“For us, it comes down to getting the best guy in our car we can get,” Herta said during Wednesday’s INDYCAR teleconference. “I’m pleased with where we ended up. I think he’s a guy we want to try to hang on to for several years to come. We want to build and grow together.”

Chaves, for his part, has been performing for the better part of three years building to this stage. The Colombian American moved back stateside after a year in GP3, and ended second in Pro Mazda in 2012 and second in Indy Lights in 2013 before emerging as champion last year.

“The relief (of signing) is only temporary,” Chaves said. “As soon as the deal is done, you have to focus on what’s next. It’s been a long journey… there has been a lot of sacrifice to get here.”

Without the $750,000 scholarship from Mazda in hand, there’s no guarantee Chaves would have been able to move up, even after two tests (second was with BHA). Chaves thanked Mazda for that, and also extolled the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, noting the number of talented drivers who are recent IndyCar graduates and on the way.

“If I’m honest, without it, it would be very hard to make a deal happen anywhere,” Chaves said. “I’m thankful that program exists. It’s not only in Indy Lights but the whole Mazda Road to Indy coming together very strong, ever since my first year in Pro Mazda in 2012. You get familiarized with tracks, the people and the whole atmosphere. It just makes my transition that much easier.

“Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz have also demonstrated the quality of drivers that we’re feeding into IndyCar is very high. There’s … Zach (Veach), and you’d like to see Sage (Karam) have a ride as well. He’s a deserving champion. We want all these guys to have a ride. They’re the eventual future stars.”

As for Herta, he’s focused on Chaves solely for 2015. The team will add a second car for Jay Howard at the Indianapolis 500 – a first for the team – but chances of a second car for further races, or an Indy Lights program, are back burner items until 2016 most likely.

“We are running a second car in the speedway, which is a first for us,” Herta said. “We want to keep the focus on Gabby and do everything we can for him. We’d like to be a two-car team sooner rather than later. Maybe we run later in the year for a full two-car program next year.

“For Lights, we’re open to coming back. We wouldn’t exist wihout it. I really think the new car is a huge plus for the series. But from our standpoint, we needed to take a step back from it so we could step forward on the IndyCar program this year. Hopefully we come back to Indy Lights at some point in the future.”

Herta also praised John Dick, who he has hired as Todd Malloy’s replacement to engineer Chaves in his rookie season.

“John was with us at the Sebring test,” Herta said. “I’ve known him for many years. But I never worked with him when I was driving.

“When we were looking for the right combination… we wanted to sign a driver first, then make sure we find the people that fit him. Gabby is good with John. Frankly we wanted a lot of experience  around Gabby. He has been with IndyCar a long time, and will help Gabby as he’s learning.”

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.