DIESTON BEACH, Fla. – Although they have faced each other in the NTT IndyCar Series for the past four seasons, the Rolex 24 at Daytona union of Bobby Rahal and Colton Herta seems natural.
Bryan Herta scored his first truck victory with Team Rahal in 1996-99 before Colton was born, and they built a relationship back then.
“It’s very cool,” Colton Herta, 22, told NBC Sports. “Obviously Bobby is a legend in the sport that I used to compete in IndyCar, a three-time champion and he won the Indianapolis 500 (in 1986). It’s really cool, and I’ve known Bobby forever. My dad drove for him in the ’90s in CART and it kind of rubbed off on me to know him growing up, so it’s really cool and an honor to be able to drive for Team RLL.
“We’re not talking about our Indy cars and setups and stuff. We’re talking about how we can make our games faster so that we can push the weekend itself. So it’s a completely separate thing, and honestly, I see it as a completely different sport in that respect. There’s no offense over anything in IndyCar and we can just go running.”
Rahal’s team is known as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in IndyCar, but is known as BMW M Team RLL for its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship entry – signifying its status as the operating arm for BMW, which essentially foots the bill and calls the shots in the car. and driver selection.
But Rahal, whose Hall of Fame career has been led by motorsports successes, plays a vital role as the team’s lead. So it’s a special throwback to have Herta in both of the team’s new BMW M Hybrid V8 prototypes.
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“We, of course, compete against Colton almost every weekend in IndyCar racing, and I would really like to be with us in that series,” Rahal told NBC Sports. “But he certainly proved to be one of the fastest guys out there and of course, my dad was a teammate for a number of years. We go back a long way. So it’s really fun to have Colton with us. For both personal and professional reasons. “
This will not be the first time Herta has driven the podium for BMW Team RLL. He has made six starts in the BMW M8 GTE since 2019-20 and was part of the winning GTLM team at the 2019 Rolex 24 on his debut.
With seven wins and nine pole positions over four IndyCar seasons, the California native has proven to be adept at climbing fast in whatever he does. Last year, the Formula One test for McLaren Racing almost led to an F1 ride in 2023.
“And it’s not just speed,” Rahal said of Herta. “I think he brings a lot of good judgment. When he won the 24 Hours (in 2019), the rain was horrible and as an 18-year-old he didn’t put a bad foot. And he really helped us in a place to win that race. So it’s painful. Of course he’s capable. So more it is for us to have
“He told me that all of our drivers bring attributes that are unique. I will not say that our drivers are better than others. Only race will tell, but I feel the drivers we have are equal to everything else out there.
Herta will be joined by Philippe Eng, Augusto Farfus, Marco Wittmann, Connor De Phillippi, Nick Yelloly and Sheldon van der Linde in this year’s 24 Rolex.
It is an unusually long list of drivers that Herta is in a unique position – as the fourth drive is used for both BMW No. 24 and No. 25 in the Grand Touring (GTP) category.
The step from the racing GT to the new hybrid class will be a major premier for BMW, which will produce a prototype for the first time in two decades.
But it also has special significance for Rahal, who put himself on the board with the overall victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 1981 (co-driving with Bob Garretson and Brian Redman).
“I was looking for the biggest race at that point, and at the time of my life, when it would probably be easier to leave than to continue,” said Rahal, who recently turned 70. “It was a link in my career. I am very happy with the free course. With great counsel. As a 28-year-old whose career has been kind of iffy, this kind of milestone was huge (and) very, very special and meaningful.
“I can think of nothing better than to mark the beginning of our GTP relationship with BMW. With me (GTP) is where we wanted to be. It has always been a company that has rushed to greater victories, especially in IndyCar. We have had a long relationship with BMW especially in the GT category, which has been a huge honor for us. We won a lot of races (in GT). He won Daytona two times. He won Sebring twice. So those are great victories and we are proud of them, but now we are running towards the highest victories. We’ve worked hard to get to this point and we’re thrilled to be able to do it with BMW.
Although the success of the GT provides a great foundation, the leap to prototype is a huge undertaking. BMW was also going to order the last of the four GTP manufacturers, getting the green light in June 2021, five months after Porsche announced to Penske Motorsport (Cadillac and Acura are owners of the DPi, the former division’s prototype).
Maurice Leschiutta, head of LMDh design for BMW M, described the transition as “a GT with more cattle, a LMDh car is a ballerina. So they require different approaches.”
Since he had the last start among the four automakers, BMW has been testing intensively for several months, recently at Sebring and the Circuit of the Americas.
Before 25 laps by both cars on the Daytona International Underwater road course in the final week of Roar before the Rolex 24 practice sessions, Herta had a few days of experience at Daytona and Bowling Green, Ohio.
The new hybrid system has a varied menu of buttons and options on the steering wheel that Herta has yet to digest. The car is a high-powered, high-speed car that bears some similarities to the Indy Car, and Herta has prototype experience as LMP2 winner Rolex 24 last year (in the Pato O’Ward team).
“I’ll say the response feels a little different,” Herta said. “The way the brakes are changed through the brake zone is different. And this is all done because of the regeneration, and to regenerate the braking zone more at the beginning or at the rear end. But it changes the balance and the inclination of the brake is just set. It takes a little time to adjust, and you need to be on your fingers you make your own adjustments inside the car as you drive it, so it’s a bit much at first when you find it, but once you get a few under your belt and how all the systems work, it’s a friendly car to drive.
“It’s almost being representative with IndyCar lap times. I don’t think it’s as fast, but it’s certainly a huge chunk faster than a GT car. And a little more different driving style, with obviously more authority and power.
Known to be light, Herta and the rest of the GTP field will be extra concerned about the smoothness of the equipment as they stick to the 61-car track. with reliability at a premium. Parts supplies are scarce for GTP cars, and there are also major concerns about the reliability of hybrid engines in their 24-hour debut.
“It looks like it’s going to be a really big endurance race and not a fast race like this race usually is,” Herta said. “Even the DPis were so reliable, and you could break the bits for 24 hours and blow the throat, and you wouldn’t have so much worry about breaking or blowing up a machine or a machine tool.
“It seems that with this new formula, everyone has yet to meet, maybe stability will be more key and a little more of what was in the “80s” and “early 90s” 90s is more of the endurance race. . But it is too difficult to say. For sure BMW has had a great success not only in IMSA, but in all around in sports car racing as a whole. It shows that he has the ability to win endurance races and at the highest level.”
Although Herta is unsure how much time he will spend in each of the cars, BMW M Team RLL already has his biggest concern in keeping his seat fit in each race. The main challenge then becomes adapting with each car featuring distinct seat positions and setups based on the other three drivers.
It will also be shot in history. Herta became the third driver to win overall and score multiple podium finishes with the same team in the top category (a feat also accomplished in the 1968 and ’70 rounds).
“I will need to have two chances to win,” said Herta. “Not a lot of people get that. It’s going to be really cool being able to drive both cars. Sure, it’s a little different, but it’s part of the job. You need to be able to adapt very quickly. I really like what you can learn. In all these different cars for quite a while jump around, learn some tricks to get up to speed a little faster. Hopefully it plays to my advantage, but it’s a very exciting opportunity so I think I’ll be very interesting to see how it goes.
In order to use each car, Herta needs to drive a minimum of two hours. Rahal Herta feels it is “an insurance policy to a great extent” if a driver gets sick or injured.
“No doubt, it’s up to the challenge,” Rahal said. “Colton is the type of car driver that racing drivers want to be in the car. So I’m sure naturally a guy like Colton or anyone else would want to be in the starting rotation on a regular basis, but this is a difficult road and of course these cars are going to be driven more aggressively by the drivers. than the car before, I think it will be more than a part.
He’ll also be racing wheel-to-wheel against well-known wheel-to-wheel racing teams – Indy 500 winners Team Penske (Porsche), Chip Ganassi Racing (Cadillac) and Meyer Shank Racing (Acura) are all GTP entries.
Herta also jokes about competing against his own IndyCar car owner, Michael Andretti, who just became a partner in Wayne Taylor Racing’s championship contender GTP team.
“It’s very cool,” he said. “Not only do you have these great manufacturers, but you have amazing IndyCar teams. So it’s pretty cool to see a crossover. I know these teams are very well respected in North America and the artists they bring are respected all over the world. It’s a really cool ball and a really cool era of sports car racing that has dawned here.
Colton Herta will go up against Bobby Rahal with BMW in pursuit of the overall win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona first appeared in NBCSports.com