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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | MOTOR SPORTS

Herta to Race at Laguna With Help From Friend

September 06, 2000|DARIN ESPER

When car owner Gerald Forsythe withdrew his Ohio-based team from competition in a franchise dispute with the CART board of directors before the start of the 2000 season, he promised Bryan Herta of Valencia that if the dispute was resolved, the team would reunite.

Herta, who is the two-time defending champion of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca Raceway, told Forsythe at the time that he wanted the opportunity to defend his championship, regardless of whether the franchise dispute was resolved.

Forsythe, who fields the two-car Players-Forsythe Racing team for Canadian drivers Patrick Carpentier and Alexandre Tagliani, and the CART board are still at an impasse over the issue of whether an owner can hold a third franchise, but Forsythe has arranged for Herta to defend his titles, the only two he has won in a champ car.

Herta, who has scored 14 points as a substitute driver in two races for Derek Walker's team and three races for Mo Nunn's team, will compete Sunday in a Forsythe-owned Reynard-Ford that was borrowed from the Players team. Forsythe--CEO and chairman of Indeck Power Equipment, which leases boilers, chillers and generators to power plants--has arranged for his company to sponsor Herta.

The car will have the same number, 77, that Herta was to use this year in the Swift-Honda that Forsythe couldn't race.

"Gerry said, 'Right now, it's just this weekend, let's just do it and see how it goes and go from there,' " Herta said. "Right now, for me, I'm not looking beyond this weekend. I just want to go there, do my best and see what happens."

Laguna Seca has always been a place where Herta has turned in strong performances. He ranks first among active drivers for total laps led with 226, is tied with Mario Andretti for most pole positions with three and has qualified on the front row every time he has raced there.

Herta's pole positions have come in consecutive years, and he went wire-to-wire in 1999 to become the first driver to accomplish that feat since Paul Tracy in 1994. His pole-winning speed of 118.666 mph in 1997 is the track record and he has a second-place finish in 1996 and a sixth in 1997.

"There's no question I've had a lot of good runs there, and that helps," Herta said. "It helps the team's confidence, but by the same token, because of the success, everybody will make you a target."

Herta tested the car Friday at Putnam Park in Indiana but did not have the opportunity to run laps at speed. The team did practice pit stops.

"Even though I've done some races, the guys on the team haven't done any and haven't had any practice," Herta said. "The car felt very good. It's not a stock Reynard. It has the advantage of the development work that the Players guys have done over the season."

The single-race deals are an added pressure for Herta.

"If things don't go well [for a team that competes weekly], you can always say, 'We'll get them next week,' " Herta said. "For us, there is no next week."

Herta said if the team can run without problems and finish, he will consider it a success. And he is enthusiastic about the opportunity.

"If somebody said, 'All right, Bryan, you have one race to come back to with your team,' this is the one I'd choose."

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Jodie York of Ventura has continued her success in Willow Springs Motorcycle Club competition in Rosamond.

York became the first woman to win a production-class race at Willow Springs with two victories May 21. She won two more June 18 and has added victories in July and August. She also has four second-place finishes and one third, and currently leads the points standings in three classes--500 modified production, 500 super stock and solo GT-Lites.

"I've learned that if you are going to put your eggs anywhere, put most of them in your own basket," York said.

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Greg Voigt of Goleta extended his points lead Saturday over Ben Walker of Santa Clarita in the super late model class at Irwindale Speedway by finishing second and eighth in twin 50-lap races.

Walker finished 12th and fifth.

Voigt leads, 720-662, with three races remaining.

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