INDIANAPOLIS – We have a new entry for the 2019 IndyCar Series season. Well, it’s a new full time entry that is. Harding Racing officially announced their plans for next year on Wednesday afternoon, naming both Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward as their entrants in the seats. They did so from Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York.
Herta, brings his partnership with Steinbrenner Racing to drive the No. 88 entry. O’Ward, will drive the second car, the No. 8 entry, just as he did in the season finale at Sonoma. O’Ward, will bring his Mazda Road To Indy scholarship money with him.
Herta, 18, made 33 career starts in Indy Lights, scoring six wins, four of which coming in 2018, 20 podiums and 23 top fives. He made his first Indy Car start in Sonoma finishing 20th.
O’Ward, 19, won the Indy Lights championship in his rookie season. The Mexican born driver had nine wins and 13 podiums in 17 starts in 2018. Between he and Herta, they combined to win 13 of the 17 races this past year. O’Ward, also impressed in his series debut at Sonoma too, qualifying in the Fast Six (5th) and finishing in the top 10 (9th) too.
“We are happy to announce that Mike Harding of Harding Racing and George Steinbrenner IV of Steinbrenner Racing will join forces in 2019 to become Harding Steinbrenner Racing,” said team president Brian Barnhart. “We will be making the move to a two-car team, fulfilling a goal we stated earlier in the year. We have decided to go all in for the future by hiring two recent stars of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series, Freedom 100 winner and Indy Lights Series runner-up, Colton Herta and reigning Indy Lights Series Champion, Patricio O’Ward. We are thrilled with their performance in the 2018 Indy Lights Series in which they ran 1-2 for Andretti Autosport. We are also exceptionally proud to have recently provided them with them their inaugural IndyCar experience at Sonoma Raceway.”
Harding had always expressed their interest in becoming a two car outfit and is making that dream come true. They signed Gabby Chaves prior to last year’s Indianapolis 500 and in the teams first ever start, he brought the car home ninth in the 101st Running. In race No. 2, Chaves finished fifth. They’d close out their 2017 season with a 15th place run in Pocono.
This year, Chaves struggled a bit. But, that was expected. They were one of the few teams without a teammate and had to adapt with a first year as a full time entrant with a brand new car. Chaves’ best finish in the first 11 races was 14th (St. Pete, Indy). After his 21st place finish at Iowa, the team decided since Chaves would not contend for this year’s championship and already having plans to bring out a second car for 2019, they might as well start experimenting.
Conor Daly drove the car to its best qualifying and finishing position of the season in Toronto. That was the first of a three race stint for the Indiana native. Then, it was back to Chaves for Gateway and Portland. That’s where the rumors starting swirling that despite the team saying Chaves was under contract for 2019, he wouldn’t be driving for them.
With O’Ward and Herta were named the drivers for Sonoma, it was clear what was going to happen.
Al Unser Jr. said on Wednesday that Chaves will remain under contract for 2019 but nothing about his future with them is known at this time.
“The 2018 IndyCar season has been a tremendous learning experience for me,” said Mike Harding. “Now I am eager to join with Steinbrenner Racing and create the powerhouse team I know Harding Racing can be. George Michael Steinbrenner IV entered the Mazda Road to Indy with the intent to win, and I believe Harding Steinbrenner Racing will quickly impress the IndyCar paddock too. Let’s go racing!”
Steinbrenner Racing burst into the racing spotlight as part of the Andretti Autosport stable after winning the second race of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires 2017 season. The team finished third in that talent-packed championship with Herta collecting seven podium-finishes. This year, Herta driving for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing with Curb finished second in the championship with four wins and 13 podiums.
“I am extremely excited to make the leap into the IndyCar Series,” said George Michael Steinbrenner IV, owner of Steinbrenner Racing. “Since I was a kid, it has been my goal to be a team owner in the IndyCar Series and I’m so excited to be doing that with Harding Racing. They are a team that shares our values that they don’t want to just be here, but to be a dominant mainstay in the series. That will continue to be our goal as we head into a partnership with a team that shares the same ideals and it makes life a heck of a lot easier. Excited to have two of the best young drivers on this continent and to have them both make the leap into the IndyCar Series at such a young age as teammates with Harding Steinbrenner. We’re looking forward to watching as they mature and fight to beat the grizzled veterans in the IndyCar paddock. We’re so excited to see where that will lead, how the team can grow, and how we’ll compete so we can hopefully vault ourselves to the top of IndyCar pylons.”
“I am so thrilled to finally announce the plans for next year,” said Herta. “I know it’s been a long time coming. After having a good time in Sonoma and dipping my feet into IndyCar, it makes me way more enthusiastic than I was before. This is all possible because of Mike Harding and I want to give a big thank you to the Steinbrenners. There is a lot to do, but I’m ready to get my head down and focus forward for the 2019 IndyCar season.”
“If you would have asked me if I was going to be an IndyCar driver last year, I would have told you hopefully, but no,” said O’Ward. “It’s a chance of a lifetime. I couldn’t be in a better position as of now. I’m really thankful for the opportunity that Harding Racing, Mike Harding and the Steinbrenners are giving me. This is something I have been working my whole life for. It’s been a very adventurous and enjoyable ride. I’ve matured a lot over the past two years and I think I’m ready to be strong in the IndyCar Series. We showed some pace in Sonoma and learned a lot. I think it’s going to be just as important to learn as much as we can in the beginning of the 2019 season, so we can end the season strong. The car will be fast, and I know the team will give me what I need to do the job. There’s nothing better than having trust with the people who are giving you the car because when the car is going fast those extra risks that you have to take are from the trust and confidence form your team.”
One thing missing is the manufacturer as the team said that there’s nothing signed yet in terms of using Chevrolet or Honda. They were a Chevy team the last two years but if anything in the future happens with Andretti Autosport, it would make sense to switch to Honda power. Right now, Unser said that Andretti isn’t a part of them yet and that they did help on O’Ward’s car for Sonoma but anything moving forward isn’t set in stone yet.