Ex-IndyCar Veteran Bryan Herta Talks About Racing The Hyundai Veloster N TCR
Photography by Angela Weaver
From a racer to a team owner, to the father of an Indy Car race winner. Bryan Herta has done it all. He’s won the Indy 500 as a team owner and raced in it himself five times. As impressive as his past is, Bryan is focused on the future. In 2019, Bryan Herta Autosport takes his Hyundai TCR team to the IMSA Pilot Challenge, where they compete with the #98 Hyundai Veloster N TCR with drivers Michael Lewis and Mark Wilkins and the #21 car for drivers Harry Gottsacker and Mason Filippi. The results have been impressive with IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge rookies Harry Gottsacker and Mason Filippi finding their way to victory lane in the Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR class after only six starts.
It’s a Friday morning before a race weekend at Laguna Seca as we sat down to have a chat with Bryan.
SB: A few people out there might now know about Bryan Herta, how did you get started in racing and how did Bryan Herta Autosport come about?
I started off as a kid wanting to become a race car driver. I went to the Skip Barber driving school, got my license, and worked my way through the amateur open-wheel rank. In 1994 AJ Floyd hired me to drive for him in the Indy 500. That was my first Indy Car race. I did, I think 13 seasons in Indy Car plus a few years in sports cars as well. In 2009, I started, Bryan Herta Autosport with a one-car Indy Lights team.
We expanded that program in 2011 and won the Indy 500 with driver Dan Wheldon. By 2012 we became a full-time IndyCar entrant. Last year we started a two-car program in the TCR category with Hyundai, where we ran in the Pirelli World Challenge Series. This year we switched to the Michelin Pilot Challenge in the IMSA Paddock. We run two Veloster and TCR cars for Hyundai here.
And I have a son, Colton Herta, who’s now 19 and races in IndyCar. He’s the youngest ever IndyCar race winner, which he did in his rookie year.
SB: It seems you’ve been put in charge of Hyundai’s racing presence this year – can you share a little of what the plan is?
Well, the short answer is win. That’s the best plan. The bigger goal is growing a performance heritage and presence here in the U.S. for Hyundai and highlighting them as a performance brand. We’re not just racing the car during IMSA, but we’ve also become the North American distributor for the vehicles. So we are now actually selling cars and increasing Hyundai’s footprint across multiple championships here and in Canada with other teams and drivers. And we’re building a TTA race car in-house that will be based on the Veloster Turbo Type R. And that car will be debuting at the beginning of October in Las Vegas at the final World Challenge race of the year.
SB: I was exploring your website, and I love that there’s a ‘buy now’ button. I can just go on there and buy a Hyundai race car?
(Laughs) Yeah. You can.
SB: I can’t imagine going on another manufacturer’s racing site and scrolling down and being able to buy a car I see on the track.
Accessibility is important, right? We’re trying to carry that into the racing and motorsports side of the business. We want to make motorsports and Hyundai race vehicles, easily accessible.
SB: How much did you have to adapt the Veloster N to make it into a TCR version?
Veloster was honed at the Nurburgring, one of the most famous race tracks in the world. So it was performance tested and developed in some of the most challenging conditions there is. And because of that, it had a race car in its DNA. And so, when we needed to adapt it to a full racing application, it was much less than maybe a lot of vehicles need.
What were your impressions of the stock Veloster N when you drove it?
it’s a great car. It’s got a good forward to rear kind of balance for distribution of performance. Many front-wheel-drive cars suffer from terminal understeer, and this car doesn’t. It’s got exceptional rotation. It’s very, it’s very nimble, and it’s got a high power to weight ratio. So, there are several things that if you’re an enthusiast or performance-minded driver, it’ll put a smile on your face.
SB: This year in IMSA, you have had some great success. How has the response been from competitors and the fans?
After switching to IMSA, we anticipated a higher level of competition, a little more depth. The style of racing switched from a single driver sprint race format to a multi-driver endurance format. So now there were pit stops, driver changes, a whole bunch of other elements to contend with.
But as we speak, we are sitting first and second in the team and driver championship with our two cars. And we are just a couple of points out of the lead in the manufacturer’s championship. With two races to close out the triple crown and win all three of them for Hyundai.
The response has been phenomenal. Not just here in the U.S., but we got congratulatory notes from the Hyundai team in Germany as well as in Korea. And also here in the U.S. so. It was very warmly received, and it made us feel really good. And we see the effects everywhere we go. Hyundai is maybe newer to the racing scene than some of the other brands, and that attracts a lot of attention. People are excited to see it, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, Hyundai’s out racing now. This is awesome.”
SB: Do fans comment or come up to you at races and events?
Definitely. And what’s, what’s been cool is, you know, there’s some hardcore Hyundai enthusiasts out there who’ve definitely come to us and said, “You know, we’ve been waiting for this. We’ve been waiting for Hyundai to be out there racing. And for us to have a team to root for.” Which has been really cool? But, I think, even more, we’re seeing a lot of people maybe didn’t know this side of Hyundai. And the performance brand side. And to see a Hyundai out there racing, competing, you know, on the same track with, you know, all the, you know, iconic racing heritage brands. Like Porsche and Lamborghini, and Ferrari, you name it. And, and competing and racing on the same track. And, showing great speed and winning races. I think it is really opening other people’s eyes to say, “You know, okay, this is, this is something I didn’t know about Hyundai.”
SB: One last question. We are big Indy 500 fans here at Petrolicious, and since you won one as a team owner, can you share what that initial feeling is like?
So much work and energy go into it. And the thing about winning an Indy 500, or frankly winning any race, is the sense of accomplishment. For me, there’s a sense of calm. It’s the only time, just for a brief moment, I feel like I can relax and enjoy it. It quickly fades back into the manic pursuit of trying to get the next win. The underlying feeling of winning is the same as when we won, say, at Mid Ohio this year for our first IMSA win with Hyundai. So it’s more just the feeling of winning. You wish you could hang onto it longer, but it doesn’t last very long.
Bryan Herta Autosport is the U.S. sales agent and parts support representative of Hyundai TCR race cars for customer teams.