Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta will compete full-time in the 2019 IndyCar Series after the newly formed Harding Steinbrenner Racing picked up the Indy Lights graduates for the full seventeen-round season. The announcement comes after the merger between Harding Racing and Steinbrenner Racing; an Indy Lights team.
Harding Racing joined the IndyCar Series in 2017 for a part-time effort, with the team competing in the oval races at Indianapolis, Texas and Pocono. The team, with Gabby Chaves at the wheel, impressed early; taking two top ten finishes in their first two outings.
For 2018, the team expanded to a full-time schedule. Chaves completed most of the races in the #88 Chevrolet, but the team elected to trial numerous other drivers toward the end of the season in search of possible candidates for a potential second car for 2019. Conor Daly was the first to get a shot in the car before O’Ward and Herta made their IndyCar debuts with the squad at the season-finale at Sonoma Raceway last weekend.
The duo, particularly O’Ward, performed well despite all adversity. Both drivers finished the race with no dramas, with O’Ward putting together a fantastic weekend to qualify fifth before finishing ninth in the race; results that earned the Mexican plaudits from many members of the IndyCar community.
The pair’s aptitude behind the wheel saw many assuming that both would end up on the grid in some compacity in 2019. Today’s news will ensure that both are racing full-time, thanks to the fact that Harding Racing has been able to fully expand to a two-car team to run both drivers. This comes courtesy of a new deal with George Steinbrenner IV, the owner of Indy Lights team Steinbrenner Racing, who has been hoping to move into IndyCar for many years.
“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 Harding’s 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 Indy car experience at Sonoma Raceway.”
Steinbrenner Racing first came into the Indy Lights series for 2017, partnering with Andretti Autosport to field Colton Herta for his rookie campaign in the championship. Since then, Herta has competed in two seasons of Indy Lights racing with Andretti Steinbrenner Racing, taking third place in the championship with two race victories to his name in 2017, before going on to take second place in the 2018 championship after taking four wins with a further nine podium finishes.
George Steinbrenner IV admitted in today’s announcement that he had dreamed of being a team owner in IndyCar since he was a child and that the prospect of accomplishing that goal next year made him “extremely excited.” As did the fact that his team would be fielding two drivers with incredible potential for the future.
“I am extremely excited to make the leap into the IndyCar Series,” Steinbrenner said. “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.”
Today’s news will likely delight legions of fans who found a new driver to root for last weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Patricio O’Ward impressed mightly on his debut when he took Harding Racing to their first appearance in the “Fast Six” pole position shoot-out in qualifying. He went on to take the teams’ best finish of the season when he finished in ninth place.
O’Ward stated today that racing full-time in IndyCar was something that he had been working towards for his whole life and that he was “really thankful” to Harding Steinbrenner Racing for the opportunity to do so.
“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.”
Herta’s progress in his debut IndyCar weekend may have been somewhat overshadowed by his team-mate, but the young American is as much of an exciting young driver as O’Ward. Colton, son of former driver and now team-owner Bryan Herta, said today that he was “thrilled” with the announcement and that he was ready to “focus forward” for next year.
“I am so thrilled to finally announce the plans for next year,” Colton said, “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.”
The 2019 IndyCar Series will kick off with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10.