INDIANAPOLIS – Some big news broke on Wednesday afternoon as Harding Racing partnered with Steinbrenner Racing and will form a two car team for the 2019 IndyCar Series season. The drivers will be Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward. While that’s not surprising, a few key tidbits are.
Most assumed that the team would remain with Chevrolet. Nothing in their press release stated what would be their manufacturer of choice. They even said as much in a teleconference. Also, most thought of this as a partnership with Andretti Autosport. Again, nothing was disclosed on that front either.
That led to a lot of questions now.
Will they be Chevy or Honda? What role does Andretti play in this? What happens to Gabby Chaves who has a contract through 2019 with the team?
Lets try to answer some of that here.
Why Wasn’t Andretti Named In This?
As of now, Andretti isn’t a partner in this deal. Sources have said that the team will likely get some technical support from that organization, but how much remains to be seen. Harding would love to fast track this growth and get a big chunk of development from Andretti, but right now, there’s nothing to announce.
“I want to thank Michael Andretti for partnering with me in the Indy Lights series, the last two years. I want to thank Mike Harding and Harding Racing for talking me in for this partnership,” said George Steinbrenner IV.
That kind of sounds like Andretti may not have a big part in this. If that doesn’t, what about what Al Unser Jr. said.
“As far as the Andretti involvement in the future, that’s a little unknown at this time. We’re just going to work in the off-season and just try to be as competitive as we can at St. Pete at the season opener.”
While Andretti could certainly work something out to play a bigger role in this, right now, it just seems like this is just a Harding/Steinbrenner deal for the moment.
No Engine Deal Yet
Harding was paired with Chevrolet for all 20 Indy Car races that they’ve competed in. They jumped on board with Chevy for the three races they contested in for the 2017 season and all year in 2018. Most assumed that Harding would pair with the bowties again for 2019 too. But, Unser said that a deal hasn’t been signed with them which makes me wonder if they’re waiting to see where the Andretti talks go.
“Still in the process of being figured out,” said Unser Jr. “We just had a great announcement here today with Steinbrenner Harding Racing, and with these two great drivers. That’s one of the biggest announcements in decades. As far as the details on what the team is going to be doing in ’19, that will come at a later date.”
Andretti, signed an extension to remain with Honda towards the end of last season. I can’t see them leaving Honda in the offseason. Despite winning the 2012 championship with Chevrolet, Andretti’s best success in the series has come with Honda. That makes it hard to have four Honda cars in one shop and two Chevy cars in another.
While it would certainly give Andretti a mega advantage in terms of knowing all the intricacies of both power plants and how it related to the cars themselves, I can’t see the other owners allowing that. That could in turn be why Andretti’s name wasn’t mentioned much on Wednesday. That also in turn could be why Harding hasn’t made a decision on Chevy or Honda for next season yet.
Unser said that there isn’t really a rush on that decision as they didn’t even sign their engine lease for this season until January or February.
“I can tell you Chevy did a great job for us in 2018, 2017,” Unser continued. “Harding Racing has been with them the last couple of seasons. Again, that’s something that Brian Barnhart, the president, Mike Harding, will be figuring out, and George, in the coming days.”
Lets take it another step. Honda powered 14 of the 25 entries in the season finale at Sonoma. Say Harding comes onboard. That would make 16 Honda entries and only nine for Chevrolet. While Chevy would pick up Juncos for at least a part time schedule and an additional entry for Carlin, there’s still a large disparity there.
Andretti Helped With O’Ward’s Car, Why Is Why If They Come On Board For 2019, Harding Could Be Serious Contenders
Unser did leave the door open for Andretti to partner though. Everyone raved about how well O’Ward did in his series debut at Sonoma, but that car was essentially an Andretti developed one. Unser said as much on Wednesday.
“Michael’s team (helped) us run our second car at Harding Racing at Sonoma with Pato (O’Ward),” Unser said. “It was fantastic. Without his help and his involvement, we wouldn’t have been able to get it done. So, you know, Mike Harding and Michael Andretti have formed a good friendship. Of course, with George, the friendship is there, too.”
O’Ward qualified fifth and finished ninth in his No. 8 Chevrolet. Herta, started 19th and finished 20th in his No. 88 Chevrolet. While on the surface it appears that O’Ward clearly had the better weekend, Unser shed some light that basically O’Ward was an Andretti outfit and Herta the normal Harding car. You can see the disparity between the two now.
That’s why Harding would love to partner with Andretti still. Look at the difference in qualifying and finishing positions. With Andretti’s development and two sensational young drivers, Harding could be a force to be reckoned with. It speeds up this process by a lot.
What Happens To Chaves?
All year long, Harding made it clear that Chaves is under contract for 2019 with them. Even with all this driver shuffling, they still had Chaves had a deal in place. Well, now he has no ride. Harding has two drivers, can they really run three cars full time? That’s not likely without another merger. Even if another merger comes (McLaren), Chaves won’t be the driver.
So, what does he do.
Unser said that Chaves is indeed under contract still and they’re figuring out how to use him.
We haven’t really decided on that. It’s way too early,” said Unser. “Gabby (Chaves) was very important to the start of Harding Racing, so I don’t know. He did a great job in ’17 in those three races, for the majority part of this season he was instrumental in this whole thing, so on. As we go into a little bit different direction, Gabby is still signed with us right now, so those details are going to be figured out as we go along here. But, yeah, it’s a great question. Gabby was very instrumental in this whole thing.”