Catching Up With: Jay Howard Driver Development
 November 9, 2020| 
  • Series News
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In just two short years, Jay Howard Driver Development grew from a rookie team to a Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship contender, capturing the driver’s championship in 2020 with Christian Rasmussen. As a former USF2000 and Indy Lights champion, Jay Howard knows what it takes to come up through the ranks and find success in racing, and his five young drivers regularly cite his influence in their careers – and their lives.

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, taking the championship title in a season that saw him capture nine victories and eight pole positions. Rasmussen and teammates Christian Bogle, Wyatt Brichacek, Bijoy Garg, and Nolan Siegel (who contributed two podium finishes to the team’s tally) rely 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. “If I tell you to go to the gym, it’s because that will make you a better driver. If I tell you what you need to do on your social media, it’s because that’s what you need to do to represent yourself, your sponsors, and our brand and our partners. It’s not about just you as a driver: there’s a bigger picture. And you can see quite quickly who buys in and who doesn’t – and the ones who buy in typically have more success.”

With five different drivers come five different personalities that require different modes of support and training. Howard knows that figuring out how each driver works, and the best mode of communication is key to establishing the kind of environment that will encourage their progression. That this group of drivers have become known as one of the most tightly knit in the RTI paddock certainly can’t hurt.

“No two drivers are the same. They all have something slightly different that they need, whether that's small changes with the car, or 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, you have to approach each weekend maybe a little bit differently, and a lot of that has to do with each driver’s personality.”

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That said, we have a really good group of kids that get along really well. They have a great relationship between them and that creates a really good environment within the team, which in turn is important to the team structure. But the biggest thing is 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 it. These young drivers make decisions every day, in all kinds of different areas, that could affect their racing career, and this influences them in a very positive way. You especially see that on the lower levels, young drivers always trying to be better because they have a goal in mind, and you can’t put a price on that.”

Each of the five drivers on the JHDD team stands at a different position in their racing development, but Howard sees the potential in all of them.

RTI_RA_072020_R1__0505“Rasmussen is a Will Power-like driver, in terms of overall pace. 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% all the time, he’s got a great personality, and he’s extremely talented. If he keeps focusing, I can see him becoming an INDYCAR driver one day. It’s just a matter now of knowing when to dial it up and when to dial it back to get those consistent results. He dominated early this season, but we had a few races that didn’t go quite to plan, and that was a big learning curve for him. But what he learned this year will be a key factor to him becoming a professional driver. He learned 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, and that’s why we have the Road to Indy. 

“Nolan was really quick in off season testing and got comfortable with our car right away. He has a different style than Rasmussen, which helped both of them. But for his age (15) and experience level, he’s done a very good job this year of showing what he’s capable of. He’s shown that he belongs in the front pack and now it’s a matter of staying there. He’ll become that much better as he matures in both age and experience.

“Christian Bogle has been testing the Indy Lights car this season and the intent is to move him up there next year, assuming nothing crazy happens and the world gets back to somewhat of a normal place. He’ll have two years of USF2000 under his belt, then 2021 as a learning year in Indy Lights, with a view to compete up front in 2022. He’s grown a lot over the last two years, I am very proud of his accomplishments, he is a great example of what is possible when you are determined and put the effort in, it’s been amazing to see.

“Wyatt and Bijoy are very similar, in that they are both super quiet. Wyatt’s development has been such that just one day, the light goes on. He was doing a decent job in F4 and suddenly figured it out and was really fast. We know he can run in the top five but he’s still working on figuring out the tire and getting qualifying right, and that’s key. Once he gets that experience up front, he’ll know that it’s where he wants to be, and that goes for Bijoy as well. He’s a very positive kid, fresh out of karting with just a bit of West Coast F4. He may have continued on that path, but COVID changed those plans and he preferred to go with the USF2000 program. Once he figures out what he really wants from the car, gets in a good season then winter testing, we’re very optimistic about next year. He has the pace, that much we know.”

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 – but to do so, the process has to begin with a laser-sharp desire to learn and succeed.

“We try to explain that to parents, that it’s a process. The first time I got into a race car, it required 100% of my brain just to physically drive the car. As you develop a mental database, you’re eventually using 10% of your brain to drive the car and the rest of your brain to analyze what’s going on – I can make changes to the car, to my driving line, do something different with the pedals. You can’t do that when you don’t have the experience, and every one of our drivers is at a different stage in that development. Sometimes they’re quick, sometimes they’re not, but they all have the drive to succeed. I know what some of the things I went through to just get an Indy 500 only ride, and it's a lot of work. You have to absolutely love it and just be determined to get what you want.”

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