“Sure, at the end of the race it’s every man for himself. But up until then, we’re going to work together on track to improve our position so that if we’re fighting for a win at the end, hopefully it’s between us.
“After that talk, Dan got on board with it and became the ‘fourth team-mate.’”
As a foil to his three older team-mates, Wheldon brought something different which was appreciated in the Andretti camp.
“We all liked him very much, he was brash,” Herta remembers. “We were all a little deeper into our careers, but it was all new for him. His enthusiasm, I think we fed off that.”
The result was an Indy 500 and championship double for Kanaan, before Wheldon did the very same in 2005. From the outside the Andretti team could simply not stop winning but Herta is unsure as to whether they could have done the same without the Englishman.
“It was a very special time, and without Dan’s contribution, maybe it wouldn’t have been as successful,” says Herta.
“Dan had a tremendous feel for the car in high speed” Bryan Herta
“He was the guy that pushed us the hardest. He was the guy that when it was windy, as veterans, we were more like, ‘Hey, maybe we don’t want to run right now.’
“Dan would be like ‘Let’s go, I’m going! He was just ready. He was up for anything all the time.”
Although there have certainly been exceptions to the rule, European imports into Indycar racing are often brought in for their road course sensibility, whilst it is left to the homegrown American heroes to master the ’roundy-round’.
However, Wheldon was different, finding an immediate affinity with high-speed ovals. Why was this?
“Dan had a tremendous feel for the car in high speed,” explains Herta. “He was very comfortable with the car sliding and moving underneath him at extremely high rates of speed, and that’s a skill set that translates extremely well to oval racing in IndyCar.
“Therefore he could drive a car fast on the big ovals. We talk loose but it’s really not loose – you have to have the car very free, not scrubbing speed, you don’t want to have a lot of resistance.
“But it’s not very comfortable for most guys to drive that way, because it’s very easy to lose control.
“I don’t think him being English or of a European motor racing background made him a better or worse oval driver – I just think Dan was born for it.
“He had that ability and he ended up in the right place to showcase that here in the States, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
That ability manifested itself in real tangible success. In 2005, only his second full season in Indycar racing, Wheldon claimed both the Indy 500 and Indy Racing League drivers’ title.
For his Andretti Green team-mates, it was confirmation of something they always knew was there.
“There was never a point where we doubted his talent” Bryan Herta
“Pretty early on, we knew he was very good,” says Herta. “So there was never a point where we doubted his talent.
“I guess we were trying to create something and it took a little convincing for him to realise he can still have his own personal success, and maybe more of it playing the game that we were trying to play.”
After reaching incredible early heights in IRL, Wheldon was rewarded with a big-money move to Ganassi, where he accrued more wins, then moved on again in an attempt to help rebuild the Panther team. By 2011 though, he was out in the cold.
Herta, by now a team boss with his own outfit, brought in the beleaguered Brit that year as a hired gun for the Indy 500. A new, matured Wheldon walked into the team, one who took them to an incredible David vs Goliath win at the Brickyard.