O’Ward, Harding Steinbrenner Split; Pato has Limited Options for 2019

Above:  Pato O’Ward speaks to the media at Sonoma last September

In a statement released this morning Harding Steinbrenner Racing announced that the team and driver Pato O’Ward have agreed to part company. O’Ward’s statement:

“The Harding Steinbrenner Racing team supported my decision to seek a new opportunity by releasing me from my contract and allowing me the opportunity to find a new team before the start of the 2019 season,” said O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion who strongly impressed in his IndyCar debut with HSR late last season. “Now, I am fully focused on finding the right opportunity and how I will use my scholarship from Indy Lights for 2019.”

O’ Ward raced for then Harding Racing in the 2018 Indycar finale at Sonoma. He qualified fifth and finished  ninth in a spectacular debut.  O’Ward was projected to team with Colton Herta in a two car effort for the merged Harding Steinbrenner Racing this upcoming season. Herta will be the sole full time entry for the team, which switched to Honda power in December.

The 2018 Indy lights champion has $1 million in scholarship money to put toward a ride. Rumors about financial woes at Harding Steinbrenner have been circulating for a while. This close to the beginning of the season it may be difficult to find a ride. There are some part time possibilities, however. I’m pretty confident a seat for the Indianapolis 500 will be available to him. O’Ward was projected as one of the top candidates for Rookie of the Year this season.

Possible landing spots-  This is strictly conjecture on my part. I have no idea what talks are going on, but I am looking at what little is available right now.

Juncos?- As of now, Kyle Kaiser will drive in the 500, but nothing else is confirmed. The team is looking for a driver with funding.

Carlin 2nd car?- Charlie Kimball has just 5 races set and R. C. Enerson has been testing with the team. There is speculation that he will fill in when Kimball isn’t driving, but I’m not sure he can run all 12 of the other races.

Coyne 3rd car?- Dale Coyne has brought out a third car from time to time. This may not be the best option for O’Ward to showcase his talent.

6th Andretti car for Indy?- O’Ward won the Indy Lights title in 2018 driving for Andretti and Andretti was giving some assistance to Harding Steinbrenner. Michael said at the Conor Daly announcement that a 6th car didn’t look good, but the cash infusion might change things.

Additional track time for Dragonspeed- Ben Hanley has a 5 race schedule planned as the team dips its toe in the Indycar pool this year. O’Ward could allow them more time to develop.

Meyer Shank more races? Jack Harvey will be in 10 races as the team expands a bit from last year. Could O’ Ward get them closer to a full time schedule?

It would be a pity if O’Ward doesn’t race this season. He is a great talent whom I was looking to seeing on track.

 

Catching Up with Indycar

Seems as if a lot has happened in Indycar since last Wednesday. I had a great time at the PRI Show. If you ever get a chance to attend, please do so. It is an amazing display of all things racing. Having the show in December helps the off-season blues.  Anyway, here are some news tidbits and some thoughts on each one.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing to Use Honda Engines

The hissing sound you heard was the sigh of relief from the Indycar paddock, who had grave concerns about Andretti Autosport giving technical aid to a potential Chevy team. I have voiced concerns about this since the possibility first arose.  Honda now has 14 full time entries for 2019.

In a related announcement, McLaren announced they will have Chevy power at the Indianapolis 500. Any technical partnership will be with a Chevy team. McLaren partnered with Andretti in 2017.

E85 fuel to Power Indycars Through 2020

Although Indycar will have Speedway as the official fuel supplier for 2019, E85 will remain the fuel for the next two years. There had been some talk of returning to methanol whent he new car came on in 2021 to add more horsepower. That is still possible, but keeping the same fuel formula makes sense since the engines are essentially the same.

It appears that this will be a seamless transition from Sunoco to Speedway.

BC39 Returns to IMS

The BC39 midget event will be back at IMS September 4-5 as a prelude to the Brickyard 400 weekend. this year’s event was a rousing success with great racing and sellout crowds. The race is the perfect opportunity for people like me who keep saying, “I should go to a dirt track this weekend” and never get around to it.

It was one the best events I attended in 2018.  MY review of it can be read here:

https://wordpress.com/post/thepitwindow.blog/8551

Foyt to be Inducted into Houston Sports Hall of Fame

A. J. Foyt will be inducted into Houston’s Sports Hall of Fame 2019 class. Foyt is a Houston native who operates part of his racing team in Houston. This is a great honor for him. My question- What took so long? The induction comes on the 60th anniversary of Foyt’s first Indianapolis 500. While he didn’t finish that race, he did pretty well in subsequent races.

Reader Billy the Skink added an explanation about the Houston Sports Hall of Fame:

To be fair to the Houston Sports Hall of Fame, they didn’t take all that long to induct Foyt. This is only the hall’s second year of existence (the project was proposed many years ago and languished in development hell for a lonnnnnnnnnnng time). They rightly recognized that Foyt was one of the first nationally prominent sports figures to hail from or be associated with Houston. The only reason he was not an inaugural class member is likely because the hall’s organizers liked the synergy and splash made with a 3-person class of Hakeem Olajuwon, Nolan Ryan, and Earl Campbell, all patron saints of sorts of Houston’s 3 major pro team sports and all wearers of the number 34.
Foyt has long been a member of the more established Texas Sports Hall of Fame, along with other racing Texans Johnny Rutherford, Carroll Shelby, Jim Hall, and the Labonte Brothers. Still need to get Lloyd Ruby, Jim McElreath, Kenny Bernstein, Eddie Hill, and Ted Johnson in there.
So it didn’t really take that long for A. J. to get in the hall. I apologize tio the Houston Sports Hall of Fame.

Indycar’s IMSA Invasion Continues

The Weather Tech Sportscar Series is quickly becoming Indycar’s second home. Roger Penske debuted an Acura DPi team last year. Chip Ganassi has been in the series for a long time. Bobby Rahal also has a two car team. Michael Shank was in IMSA before he entered Indycar. For 2019 Ricardo Juncos will have a DPi team as well.  Many drivers participate in the Rolex 24 and Sebring 12 hour events.

Graham Rahal drove for Penske last year. In 2019 Alexander Rossi will join Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor in one of the Penske entries. Simon Pagenaud will co drive the other car with regulars Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron.

Rahal said the reason for the switch is that he cannot fit comfortably in the car. Ryan Hunter-Reay backed him up on that point. Hunter-Reay has driven the Wayne Taylor Racing prototype.  Rossi is one of the taller drivers in the series as well. I’m not sure that this move changes much. Rossi is a bit slimmer than Rahal, but I think the height is the issue.

In related news, Alex Zanardi was confirmed for the Rolex 24 as a co driver of one of Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s cars. The car will have special hand controls to accommodate Zanardi. It will be gbreta to see him in major racing again.

TV Summit

This weekend NBC met with nine racing series that are on their networks to work out plans to better coordinate schedules. Some things discussed were joiny events and a Racing Week in America, seven nights of racing on television. Yes, please! I will have more about the summit later this month.

Coming Attractions

After my move this week to The Pit Window’s move to winter headquarters, look for a post on another 500 mile race program and another in which  I play Santa for the Indycar community.  My last 2018 post will be around the 28th.

 

Some Off Season Thoughts

The first week of the off season brought the exciting news that Harding racing will partner with Steinbrenner Racing in 2019. The new Harding Steinbrenner Racing team has signed rookies Pato O’Ward, 2018 Indy Lights champion, and Indy lights runner-up Colton Herta. Very few details other than the driver announcements are known at this time. There is a technical partnership with Andretti Autosport which will provide shocks, dampers, and engineering help.

The big question is which engine will Harding Steinbrenner use? Harding had Chevrolet power in 2018, and Andretti is a Honda team. For these teams to work together, the engine needs to be the same. If HSR goes with Honda, would that rule out a possible third car at Rahal letterman Lanigan Racing?

One of the greatest things about this new team is that the two team owners come from outside of racing. My friend Steve Wittich wrote an excellent article for Trackside Online about how Indycar needs diversity in its ownership. I hope we see more owners from outside racing. they should provide a fresh perspective on the business of racing.  You can find his article on Trackside Online.com. It is a site worth subscribing to.

New Title Sponsor?

There has been no word on a new series title sponsor. Things have gone rather quiet about who it will be. That could mean it’s wrapped up ready to be announced, or Indycar is still searching. It would have been good to have an announcement at Sonoma, and have some sort of handing over ceremony to thank Verizon for their sponsorship.

The Mysterious Third OEM

Is there someone ready to jump in for 2021? There has been some talk of one or two manufacturers, with one name mentioned more than others, but again, things seem very quiet on the new engine front right now.

McLaren News in November?

We may not know Mclaren’s plans until November. It would be great to have McLaren in Indycar, but this is turning into racing’s version of General Hospital. First Honda says they will not help Mclaren, then reports have come out saying yes they still might. Alonso has not made a decision. My guess he is in for the 500 only. Stoffel Vandoorne, considered a candidate for the seat when Alonso doesn’t drive, is rumored to be close to having a contract in Formula E. That could mean McLaren will be here for the 500 only as well.   Stay tuned.

Coyne’s Car 19

Dale Coyne has talked to some former Formula 1 drivers about driving the 19 car next year. he continues his quest to have one driver for the entire season in that ride. Apparently neither Zachary Claman De Melo or Pietro Fittipaldi will return. Too bad. They both have some potential to be decent drivers.

October Coming Attractions

Next month I have several columns planned for here and on Wildfire Sports.

A review of Born Racer.

A book review of Gentleman, Start Your Engines.

Look for  another month of May review via the official program for that year.

Commentary on off season news and the big announcements that could be coming will be posted as needed. In addition to a title sponsor, I am most interested to see which races will be on NBC network. I’m guessing there will be a lot in May and very early June. They didn’t ask me (again) but I think one Detroit race would be enough.

Look for a column on things Indycar might want to change for 2019.