Herbert Has Ambitous Plans
October 23, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
And why not? Johnny Herbert has accomplished everything he’s ever set out to do. He won three races in the ultra-competitive Formula One series, and he’s tasted victory at Le Mans.
Now, Herbert would like to swill the milk in victory lane at the Indianapolis 500. Think it’s a stretch? Think again.
Herbert tested Heritage Motorsports’ No. 35 G Force-Infiniti at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week, and the results were immediately impressive.
Herbert toured the historic 2.5-mile oval at 222.366 mph on Friday, besting reigning Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, whose best lap was 221.311 mph. The three-day test was Herbert’s first time on the oval, but he raced on the 13-turn infield road course last year in the U.S. Grand Prix.
“It's just good being able to get on the Speedway like this, driving the right way around it for a start,” said Herbert, who drove in the American Le Mans Series this season. “It's pretty impressive, I have to say, to drive on it. It gives me a much bigger sense of speed than I've ever felt before, especially the way the wind was blowing going into Turn 3. It was getting pretty quick down into there.
“It was a good feeling for really what it's all about. What was fortunate about coming here was to just give me a good idea.”
Along with his duties as driver of the No. 38 car for Champion Racing in the ALMS, Herbert also was test driver for the Arrows F-1 team this year. As if that weren’t enough, Herbert found time to test a Dale Coyne-owned Champ car at Rockingham Motor Speedway in England in July and an Indy Racing Northern Light Series car at Kentucky Speedway in July.
He hasn’t announced his official 2002 plans, but Herbert knows where he’ll be next May.
“I'm looking forward to getting it together for next year,” Herbert said. “It's one of the those things that when I was a kid I wanted to do Formula One, which I've done. I won three races in that. I wanted to do Le Mans, and I've won Le Mans. It's the 500. It's a different type of challenge. It's like nothing else I've done before, and because that challenge is there, I want to attack it, but I want to attack it in a way that I do a season of it, not just the 500 itself - do a season so, one, I get the races before I get here, and, second, I get a series that the 500 is part of that series, and it's good.
“It's something completely different than I've ever done before and a big, big challenge. And that's what important as a driver, to have a challenge. And this, for sure, gives you a big challenge.”
Herbert, 37, finished 11th in the inaugural SAP United States Grand Prix at IMS last season, but he doesn’t think the two races compare.
“We don't corner anywhere near this speed, so I think the speed is one thing,” he explained. “Turn 1, because you can't see it too well, is like going in a tunnel. So that's a little unnerving, especially to start with, but you get a bit used to it. Turns 2 and 4 are very similar, they're sort of the easiest of the four and probably (Turn) 1 is the most difficult. I think probably even (Turn) 3 is the second most difficult.”
Herbert has been connected to a couple of CART teams this season, and now Heritage Motorsports in the IRNLS. He was entered in the IRNLS season finale at Texas Motor Speedway on Sept. 16, but that race was postponed because of the terrorist attacks on America, meaning Herbert could not participate because of his ALMS commitment. He was going to drive the No. 36 G Force-Infiniti as a teammate to Heritage’s main driver, Jeff Ward.
Those plans may pan out in 2002, or Herbert may be selected to replace Ward in the No. 35. Or, he could wind up somewhere totally different. Herbert wants a full-time ride no matter where he goes.
“It would be great to get the right experience running up to Indy and then run the rest of the year for the championship,” the Englishman said. “It would be nice to win a championship and the 500, as well. I know it's not that simple, but that would be the plan.”
Seems as though whatever he plans for, Herbert achieves. So watch out, Indy.