Despite late start, Andretti, Herta excited to reunite in 2016

Herta, HPD's Art St. Cyr and Andretti. Photo: Dan DiZinno

Today’s a rarity in the calendar. It’s a Leap Year, and so it’s February 29 for the first time in four years.

Another thing that’s a rarity is when two team owners get together less than a month before the start of a season and add a driver to the mix who hasn’t even tested an IndyCar yet.

But tomorrow begins the Alexander Rossi in the No. 98 Honda for Andretti Autosport, with Bryan Herta as strategist and BHA crew on the car story of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Rossi, 24, returns to racing full-time in the U.S. for the first time since 2008, when he won the last full season of the Formula BMW Americas championship.

Meanwhile, longtime friends and friendly competitors Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta will reunite for the first time since exactly the same year, when Herta saddled up in Andretti’s Acura ARX-01b LMP2 car in the American Le Mans Series season. And Herta also drove for Andretti’s IndyCar team from 2003 to 2006.

The last-minute partnership was certainly a marriage of necessity, but also convenience given the two had worked together before as teammates.

And it comes following what can best be described as a very unfortunate situation for Herta, when a proposed sponsor fell through just mere weeks before the season.

“It came together really quickly,” Herta told NBC Sports during this weekend’s Test in the West.

“We’d had a couple sponsor deals that were ‘done deals,’ that ended up not getting done. And so we were fast approaching the start of the season and we weren’t in a funded situation.

“I called Mike originally and said, ‘Hey, I’m struggling. But here’s what I’ve got.’

“He was in a position where he wanted to run their fourth car again. So I have these pieces, and he has these pieces. It was very quickly we could put this together and make something really great.”

Andretti, for his part, was keen to get back to a full-time four-car operation, which is what his team has been most successful with since its move from what was then CART to IndyCar prior to 2003.

“I think it will strengthen our whole team,” Andretti told NBC Sports during this same test.

“Folding Bryan in with us, he’s got a lot of really good people. And folding his people with our people, equipment, we just strengthened ourselves a lot.

“Having four cars is the way to go if they’re all properly funded, and we’re there. We’re excited about it.”

The people part is a key element. Herta was able to maintain his full crew of 12 with the partnership, but driver Gabby Chaves was the lone truly unfortunate casualty of the process. More on him in a bit.

Rossi became available fairly last-minute once his possible Manor Racing F1 opportunity fell through. His IndyCar hopes opened once it became apparent Rio Haryanto would have the necessary funding to secure the final F1 spot.

“We were very aware of Alexander, yes, but Alexander had been in contact with Michael at various times the last couple years as I understand it,” Herta explained.

“When I came to Michael, there were a few other drivers on the list, and it really was where Alexander’s management had reached out to Andretti almost coincidentally, right in the time frame we started talking.

“‘We think the Manor thing is gonna happen, but if it doesn’t, is there anything there?’ And he very quickly became at the top of the list.”

That’s not to say Herta didn’t want to keep Chaves. Far from it, as the 22-year-old kept his nose damn clean all last year and had no DNFs by accident. His lone DNF in a year where he won both Indianapolis 500 and series rookie-of-the-year honors came at Pocono, when he had a shot to win and led 31 laps before a mechanical issue.

“Gabby is a great race car driver. No doubt about it,” Herta said, categorically.

“That’s why we worked so hard through the winter to put something together with him. I feel terrible for him we don’t have anything.

“But it shows that when Sam needed someone for this test, when (Mikhail) Aleshin couldn’t get his visa, Gabby was first on the list.”

Rossi will have two days of testing this week at Sebring, March 1 and 2, to get acclimatized and comfortable. It’ll be his first days an IndyCar and he’s primed for the opportunity.

Where Rossi will likely benefit is from Andretti’s four-car arsenal, compared to what Chaves had to do as a rookie on a single-car team. The trio of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz are known for their collective chemistry as a unit and adding Rossi in can only be a benefit for him.

The other ace in the hole is engineer Tom German, who’s a past Indianapolis 500 winning engineer with Team Penske and was most recently with Michael Waltrip Racing. Remember that name if or when Rossi puts together a big weekend.

“He’s gonna be great,” Herta said. “He is great engineer. He was somebody that we had reached out to, as BHA, and was planning to bring on board.

“When this kind of evolved into merging our operating for this year with Andretti, I was hopeful he still wanted to do this.”

That “this year” line is a key part – Herta seems to eventually want to get back to BHA as its own entity in 2017, and is keeping the name and shop for the Bryan Herta Rallycross team for that to continue as a separate entity from Andretti in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series.

“It’s a this year thing, right now,” Herta said. “But we didn’t tiptoe into this. We’re all the way in.

“Our guys, myself, we’re 100 percent committed to this and 100 percent committed to Andretti Autosport. Being a good partner and becoming a partner of what they’re doing. We don’t know beyond that. It should work out in a really good way. We’re going into this with the right intentions.”

Added Andretti, “Having Bryan back makes sense. We’re good friends. We’ve always been. I’m glad we could help each other out.”

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”

Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.

Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500