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Herta, Andretti continue ‘natural evolution’ of partnership into 2017

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A year ago, Bryan Herta faced a quandary and a fork in the road.

A sponsor had pulled out, leaving the likable team owner and past driver needing a way to continue into the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season at the eleventh hour.

You should know the story from there. Herta and Michael Andretti struck a deal where the Bryan Herta Autosport team melded with the Andretti Autosport operation as the fourth Andretti entry for 2016. Alexander Rossi replaced Gabby Chaves as driver although the rest of the BHA crew shifted over unchanged.

Rossi promptly won the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil thanks in large part to Herta’s strategic gamble but Rossi’s own maturity beyond his years, while Chaves endured a nightmare season racing only part-time.

It’s natural to wonder where Herta might be now if the last-minute deal didn’t happen. Luckily, there was never a question that the Herta-Andretti partnership would continue into a second year, and as Herta explained, the melding is such that there’s not a divide of “BHA” and “Andretti Autosport” within the overall unit.

“I think it’s kind of cool how it’s evolved. A year ago this was all fresh,” Herta told NBC Sports. “Indy 500 aside was a great thing on its own, but overall it’s worked well for us and for his team. This was a natural evolution.

“You had the 98 car… and it was my original guys that came over on the car. Now the idea was, let’s do this for a year. At end of the year, really, we’d talk about how to continue it. We achieved the objective and didn’t need to go our own way again. We want to continue it.

“This year is a more thorough integration. It’s not the ’98 guys’ and ‘Andretti guys.’ There’s a mix; the BHA guys are mixed to different cars. I have a role in Marco (Andretti’s) car. It’s back to one team. The 98 yes, falls under the BHA entry, but really now we’re all in with Andretti Autosport.”

And that is the funny part of the year ahead. While Rossi’s No. 98 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda is still the Andretti-Herta Autosport entered car, Herta himself shifts to the strategist box for Marco Andretti, in an attempt to help bring the No. 27 hhgregg Honda’s performance – and results – forward. This also allows Michael Andretti to step off the box and be free to go to his other race team events, if needed, for conflict weekends.

MONTEREY, CA - OCTOBER 19:  Bryan Herta driver of the #26 Andretti Green Racing XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a during practice for the American Le Mans Series Monterey Sports Car Championships at Laguna Seca Raceway on October 19, 2007 in Monterey, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
MONTEREY, CA – OCTOBER 19: Bryan Herta during practice for the ALMS race at Laguna Seca Raceway in 2007. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The relationship between Herta and Marco Andretti is a really intriguing one. Herta and Michael Andretti raced together first as rivals, then as teammates between 1994 and 2007. Marco Andretti’s debut in 2006 coincided with Herta’s last full-time year as a driver in IndyCar, before he shifted to Michael Andretti’s Acura LMP2 sports car program in 2007 (right).

Yet Herta can see both the father side (his son Colton, races for Andretti’s Indy Lights team in 2017) and the teammate side of Marco. He knows the talent is there, but it’s been inconsistent on whether it’s fully shone through or not.

“He’s got a really capable group of guys over there,” Herta explained. “Me moving over was just a case of freshening some things up. Also with Michael recognizing… given his role as a team owner in multiple championships, he’s better off, not handcuffed, but not being stuck in any particular place. Say he might be needed at FE, GRC, or here. This frees him up to be wherever he’s needed.

“The second point is the father-son dynamic is difficult. They’re both very similar and passionate. So it was, let’s try something different. Marco was up for it. I was up for it. I have known Marco since he was a kid and I believe there is more than enough ability there. He has all the tools he needs.”

RICHMOND, VA - JUNE 23: Marco Andretti, (L) driver of the #26 ArcaEx Andretti Green Racing Dallara Honda, and Bryan Herta driver of the #7 XM Satellite Andretti Green Racing Dallara Honda, and Marco's engineer Eddie Jones talk during practice for the IRL IndyCar Series SunTrust Indy challenge on June 23, 2006 at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Gavin Lawrence/Getty Images)
RICHMOND, VA – JUNE 23: Marco Andretti and Bryan Herta, and Marco’s engineer Eddie Jones talk during practice for IndyCar’s 2006 race at Richmond. (Photo by Gavin Lawrence/Getty Images)

Marco Andretti, for his part, is bullish on the move as well. “I’m really excited to be working with Bryan. Dad was great at calling races, but sometime it’s a hectic work environment, and no one wants to make mistakes. Every one of these guys is extremely talented,” he told NBC Sports in December.

Luckily for both parents, they just get to play “dad” this year at the track rather than be directly involved in their sons’ races. It’s a move that, in large part, has helped Graham Rahal develop the last two years at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, a team Herta used to race for. With Bobby Rahal off the box and Rico Nault stepping in, the younger Rahal has achieved his best two seasons the last two years.

Herta still has the “dad” component as Colton, 16, comes home for 2017 after two years abroad in Europe racing for Carlin. The Andretti Steinbrenner Racing entry Colton will drive for in Indy Lights matches the BHA No. 98, but features no Herta ownership involvement.

And being free to just watch the son of “Hertamania” compete is a freeing element for the senior Herta.

“It’s really nice having him home. We’ve enjoyed having him home,” he said. “On the race weekends it was hard to watch him… I only went to two races a year. I was always here.

“This year, I’m not going to watch every session. But just being here and keeping tabs on what’s going on is nice. I don’t have a role in Indy Lights program.

“For me, if I walk over there, it’s just me being dad. I’m not there to work.”

But work is something the senior Herta has done a good job of as one of IndyCar’s newest – and youngest – team owners at just 46 years old. He’s still got his own team name active as well, as the Bryan Herta Rallysport team continues into 2017 with new driver Cabot Bigham, who steps up to Supercars after winning the GRC Lites title.

The IndyCar season starts on March 12 at St. Petersburg and resumes on NBCSN on April 9 in Long Beach, while GRC kicks off at Memphis April 28-29, also on the NBC Sports Group networks.

IMSA: Sims, De Philippi deliver first win for BMW M8 GTE in Michelin GT Challenge at VIR

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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DANVILLE, Va. – After coming tantalizingly close two weeks ago at Road America, the BMW M8 GTE is a first-time winner.

Co-drivers Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi delivered the new-for-2018 race car’s first victory anywhere in the world in a strong and strategic performance aboard the No. 25 BMW Team RLL machine en route to the Michelin GT Challenge victory at VIRginia International Raceway.

The No. 25 duo combined to lead a race-high total of 32 laps of 88 trips around the 3.27-mile road circuit that comprised the two-hour, 40-minute race. Sims led the final 31 laps and crossed the finish line 1.323 seconds ahead of Jan Magnussen to take the victory.

The VIR victory was redemption of sorts for the No. 25 team after the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase, when De Phillippi appeared on his way to victory only to be forced to pit lane for fuel with two laps to go.

Sunday, the team had to overcome a midrace incident in which Sims tangled with the GT Daytona (GTD) class car of David Heinemeier Hansson. Sims had to serve a drive-through penalty for incident responsibility.

“It’s fantastic,” Sims said. “The team’s done an awesome job. They’ve been working really hard all year. Some races haven’t really gone our way. But they haven’t given up. BMW and Rahal have done a mega job. It’s fantastic to get us this first win for the M8. Connor did a great job at the start of the race to get us up to third.

“He did a flawless stint, despite my mistake at the start of my first stint. I kind of held my hands up. That was my mistake. We deserved the drive through. We got back in the race after the safety car and had mega pace. I was really, really pleased.”

It was Sims’ fourth career WeatherTech Championship victory and the second for De Phillippi. Both drivers’ last victory came at Motul Petit Le Mans last season, Sims in the final race for the BMW M6 GTLM and De Phillippi with the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi team in GTD. De Phillippi became a BMW factory driver prior to this season.

“It was down to the last pit stop,” De Phillippi said. “Obviously, after the contact, we had to rethink what we were going to try to do. We went with a more aggressive strategy and we saw that if we stayed out longer we’d have a clear track and the others would be hitting the GTD traffic. We went forward with that strategy and with that we gained while they were stuck in traffic which was enough to keep us out front.

“The Michelin tires were hooked up and held up so well we didn’t have to put any on the last stop. Alex just drove the wheels off to it for the finish. This win feels amazing. This is a new program, and obviously when you switch to a new brand and a new family you always want to win the first year out. I got one at the Nürburgring, and now to do one with my full-time team in this series, it’s really special to me and feels really great.”

After winning the Michelin GT Challenge each of the past two years, Magnussen came up just shy of a three-peat in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R along with co-driver Antonio Garcia. It was the team’s seventh podium result of the season and sixth consecutive and it vaulted them into the GTLM championship lead by four points, 269-265, over No. 67 Ford GT co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe with three races to go.

John Edwards and Jesse Krohn made it two BMW M8s on the podium with a third-place run in the No. 24 BMW Team RLL entry. In addition to it being the first victory for the M8, it also was the first time two M8s finished on the podium in the same race.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing saw its GTLM winning streak stopped at four in the Michelin GT Challenge. No. 66 Ford GT co-drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller finished fourth, while the No. 67 entry of Briscoe and Westbrook was forced to retire early from the race with clutch problems. Westbrook started the race from the pole position and led the first 28 laps before pitting to turn the car over to Briscoe, and the problem reared its ugly head shortly thereafter.

No. 912 Porsche co-drivers Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor came back from an opening lap incident with the No. 4 Corvette to finish fifth.

Baumann In Right Place At Right Time As Lexus Wins Thriller At VIR

Dominik Baumann and 3GT Racing celebrate a GTD triumph. Photo courtesy of IMSA

It was an example of being in the right place at the right time for Dominik Baumann in a victorious effort alongside co-driver Kyle Marcelli in Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway.

Running in the fourth position with 30 minutes remaining, Baumann successfully navigated his No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 through a series of incidents involving the top three ahead of him. Once clear, he went on to lead the race’s final 17 laps, beating the No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Long to the stripe by 0.567 seconds in a thrilling last-lap battle for the GT Daytona (GTD) class win.

The race-winning sequence began when the No. 44 Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Andy Lally got a run on the race-leading No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 of Lawson Aschenbach. The two made slight contact allowing the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Jeroen Bleekemolen to pull alongside Lally for the lead. One corner later, Lally and Bleekemolen made side-to-side contact, sending the No. 33 into a spin with Baumann capitalizing to pass both for the lead.

“I saw the Audi and Mercedes fighting in front of me and going off,” said Baumann, who won earlier this year alongside Marcelli at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. “We just stayed out of trouble and just did our race.”

“Thanks to the Mercedes, and the Audi and the Acura coming together, it inherited us the lead, and those closing laps under pressure are tough to drive, and Dominic was a true professional today,” added Marcelli. “I think if you look up and down the grid, we’ve all made a few mistakes, but it’s just minimizing them. It’s a track that’s demanding physically and mentally and easy to make mistakes and drop wheels and fill the radiator full of grass. It was he who made the least mistakes who came out with a victory today.”

It certainly wasn’t easy for Baumann from there, however. In the closing minutes, Katherine Legge made up a nearly 10-second deficit in her No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing w/ Curb-Agajanian Acura NXS GT3 to get to the bumper of Baumann on the final lap.

The two raced side-by-side up the backstretch of the 3.27-mile circuit, but Baumann had the benefit of the inside line. Long took advantage of the battle ahead of him and was able to slip by Legge to finish second alongside co-driver Christina Nielsen.

Legge and co-driver Mario Farnbacher finished third, with Legge making up significant ground in the GTD points race with two races remaining. A midrace unscheduled pit stop for contact for the points-leading No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow relegated the team to a sixth-place finish. Sellers and Snow now lead Legge by 13 points, 275-262, heading to the penultimate race of the season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 of Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette finished fourth, with Bleekemolen and co-driver Ben Keating finishing fifth. Lally was hit with a stop and go penalty for his previous contact with Bleekemolen and finished seventh with co-driver John Potter.

Next up for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the penultimate round of the season, the America’s Tire 250 as part of the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 7-9.

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