Bryan and Colton Herta IndyCar ride swap at Laguna Seca "off the charts"
Joey Barnes Sep 7, 2023 at 8:40 AM
Bryan got behind the wheel of his Reynard-Ford Cosworth, sporting the black, yellow and white colors of the iconic Shell livery he drove to victory 2.238-mile, 11-turn natural terrain road course in 1998.
Colton gifted his father the car back in May as a birthday present. In turn, Bryan surprised Colton last month with the same livery scheme on his #26 Andretti Autosport Honda and firesuit that will run at this weekend's Grand Prix of Monterey.
The event drew a huge gathering of crew members past and present, along with the majority of the current IndyCar Series grid, to take in the unique spectacle.
It began with the pair driving their respective machines side-by-side through the flowing sandy circuit before Bryan was let loose with a car he stormed to Victory Lane with 25 years prior. The 53-year-old managed four solid laps before pulling into pit lane to catch his breath.
"It wasn't very fast, but I was able to push some corners hard enough to really feel the car," Bryan said. "Frankly, I'm not in good enough shape. It's more physical than I could extract out of the car.
"The limit, the limit right now for me, was me. But I was able to feel it and remember it and all those memories and feelings came rushing back for me."
But there was also no removing the wide smile spread across his face.
"It was great," Bryan said. "It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. I wish I could have made it longer than I did, but I enjoyed it while it lasted every second."
Then, the kid got his turn in his dad's hotrod. Colton received a final bit of advice from his father about the rev limiter and shift points but was then let loose, immediately stomping the pedal as the backend danced leaving pit lane.
The on-track limits were instantly being pushed as the 23-year-old surpassed his father's lap total and then some before parking it for the day.
"I didn't really have any expectations going into it, but I blew them away," Colton said. "Today, it was the first time I've heard these engines fire up. The first time I've ever seen a CART car run.
"Sometimes you get guys that run historics and whatnot, but this is a proper-prepared car and I was driving it to the best of my abilities. It was really cool to be able to get a chance to do that. You don't usually get to do that with some of these historic cars."
Like his dad, Colton is a two-time winner at the Monterey circuit, provided his own assessment of how his father's car from more than two decades ago compares to the cars currently raced in the IndyCar Series.
"The overall feel, it's still an open-wheel car," Colton said. "It's a little bit more nimble. It's lighter. It's lower to the ground. It's smaller. The wheelbase is a lot shorter. So, in that aspect, performance-wise, it's a lot better than nowadays.
"And then the engines are way different, and the power output is way different. You're talking about a single turbo, and now we have twin turbos and very different horsepower levels. So, the feel is different.
"The biggest thing for me was the methanol [fuel]. When you slow down into those slow corners, all that exhaust piles into the cockpit and it's finally forced forward, and you can't breathe in the thing sometimes. I can't imagine starting at the back of the grid for the races; what it must be like for the first lap. You probably can't see or breathe.
"Your eyes are probably watering because it's basically like just pouring fumes into your body, which is incredible. I've never felt that in any race car that I've ever driven. It was super, super neat."
Considering that Bryan hadn't properly stepped into an open-wheel car since 2006, it provided an unforgettable scene for Colton.
"It's just like butterflies the first time seeing that car roll by and hearing the sounds of the backfire and the turbo spool," Colton said. "And then when it goes by being able to smell the engine, it's never happened before. It's cool to see him back in a race car, too."
Not to mention looking back and seeing him as they shared the track.
"That was weird because I've never like done anything like that," Colton said. "I've seen him in a race car, but it's been such a long time since he's been in an open-wheel car. I was maybe six or seven the last time I saw him. So, for me, it was like the first time. It was really neat.
An idea by Bryan, presented to Dan and Cassidy Towriss at Gainbridge, ignited the possibility.
"They were like, 'Absolutely, we want to do it. Let's run with it,'" Bryan said. "But then, they, the Andretti team, everybody embraced it. You know, what's so heartwarming for me is to see how much effort everybody put into it.
"I'm just so grateful to be able to have the day we had and the experience we just had and share that, share it with my old crew and his crew. Just so many people that were important in my career and are now important in his, and to see those worlds collide is really great."
At the end of the day, Bryan sat on the sidepod of his car just taking it all in. Despite his best efforts, he struggled to describe the significance of what he had just experienced.
"I can't," Bryan said. "It's off the charts. It really is. It's off the charts on so many levels. To get to 25 years later experience this car one more time, to get to share that with my son and watch him experience a '90s-year Champ Car and be able to feel that and drive one of those, it's everything for me."