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.”

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field


Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

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Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2