In two short years, Jay Howard Driver Development has proven themselves as one of the top teams in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.
As a former USF2000 and Indy Lights champion as well as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES competitor, Jay Howard knows what it takes to come up through the ranks and find success in racing, and his drivers regularly cite his influence in their careers – and their lives.
In 2020, Christian Rasmussen led the team’s five-car lineup of young drivers eager to make their way up the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder, clinching the USF2000 championship this year. Rasmussen and teammates Christian Bogle, Wyatt Brichacek, Nolan Siegel and Bijoy Garg relied on Howard and the team for the guidance necessary in their development as race car drivers – on and off the racetrack.
“That’s why we have a ladder in place, to get the process started,” said Howard. “I am here to prepare the drivers for the top level of INDYCAR by educating them, for example, advice on social media, it’s because that’s what is expected of you as a professional driver representing not only yourself but your sponsors, the team, the series and all of the partners. It’s not about just you as a driver: there’s a much bigger picture”.
With five different drivers came five different personalities that required different types of support and training. Howard knows that figuring out how each driver works is the key element. That this group of drivers became known as one of the most tightly-knit in the Road to Indy paddock certainly didn’t hurt.
“No two drivers are the same,” Howard said. “They all have something slightly different that they need, whether it's a pat on the back, an arm around their shoulder or a kick in the pants. You have to talk to them differently and approach every situation in a different way.
“That said, we had a really good group of kids that got along really well. They had a great relationship between them and that created a really good environment within the team. But the biggest thing was to see them grow in confidence as young men as well as drivers. We all know that racing is expensive but when you look at how it changes peoples’ lives and gives these young guys something to work toward, in a way that nothing else could, I believe it’s worth every penny. These young drivers make important life decisions every day, all of which will affect their racing career, this influences them in a very positive way. You can’t put a price on that.”
Each of the five drivers on the JHDD team stood at a different position in their racing development, but Howard sees the potential in all of them.
“Rasmussen simply has pace,” he said. “I can’t think of any driver on any level of the Road to Indy who can put down a lap as quick as he can. He’s 110 percent all the time, Christian’s raw speed is his strong point. His focus is to continue to develop the skill of knowing when to dial it up and when to dial it back to get those consistent results. He learned a lot last year, and those lessons will be a key factor to him becoming a professional driver. He’s learning that it’s about patience, knowing you don’t have to win every corner of every lap. You have to know how to manage situations, which is exactly the reason why we have the Road to Indy.
“Nolan was quick in offseason testing and got comfortable with our car right away. He had a different style than Rasmussen, which helped both of them in terms of seeing each other’s strong points and weaknesses. For his age (15) and experience level, he did a very good job last year, in particular, one of his podium drives at Mid-Ohio was very impressive.
“Wyatt and Bijoy are very similar personality-wise, in that they are both very quiet and laid back. Wyatt’s development has been such that just one day, he figures everything out and then he is up front and winning races. Take F4 for example, he was doing a good job, scoring points, around the top 10, then it seemed like overnight, he figured it out and was super quick from that point on, going on to win races. For Bijoy, he had the least amount of experience out of all the boys, essentially fresh out of karting with limited F4 experience. He was very fast in the USF2000 car and just lacked experience, but I have high hopes for him based off of what I have seen so far. He has the pace; we want to turn that pace into results.”
“Bogle, what can I say, here’s a guy that had never driven a race car as of three years ago, completely green and ready to learn. He got on a fitness program, went from being last in his first F4 race and multiple seconds off the pace, as expected, to winning his first-ever F4 race just over a year later. Never would I have thought that would be possible in such a short period of time”.
For Howard, it’s all about the process. He can envision a day when the team graduates a driver from the initial rungs of the ladder all the way into the NTT INDYCAR SERIES – all within the JHDD structure.
“We try to explain this to the parents as well as the drivers, it’s a process. The first time I got into a race car, it required 100 percent of my brain just to physically drive the car. As you develop a mental database, you’re eventually using 10 percent of your brain to drive the car and the rest of your brain to analyze what’s going on – from braking techniques, car handling, how to improve the car, adapting, future changes, the list of analytics goes on. You can’t do this when you don’t have the experience, and every one of our drivers is at a different stage in that development”.