Reigning Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward has confirmed today that he has split with Harding Steinbrenner Racing just over a month before planning to embark on his first full season in the NTT IndyCar Series. O’Ward stated today that the move was his decision, despite rumours suggesting that the team could not find the money to run him.
In a short press release published earlier today, O’Ward said that he was searching for another ride to get him on the IndyCar grid in 2019.
“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,” O’Ward’s statement read.
“Now, I am fully focused on finding the right opportunity and how I will use my scholarship from Indy Lights for 2019.”
O’Ward made his IndyCar debut at the season finale of the 2018 season at Sonoma Raceway. Patricio had just clinched the 2018 Indy Lights title at Portland International Raceway, where he beat Colton Herta to the crown. Both O’Ward and Herta tested with Harding prior to the team announcing that the duo would be driving for them at Sonoma.
O’Ward put in an absolutely stunning performance on debut to take Harding to their first-ever appearance in the final round of qualifying. He would take fifth on the grid and would go on to take a solid ninth-place finish; defying his inexperience in what was a chaotic race.
Soon after the season finale, Harding Steinbrenner Racing announced that both O’Ward and Herta would contest the 2019 IndyCar season with them. The excitement surrounding O’Ward’s rookie season grew, even more, when he competed in the Race of Champions last month, beating drivers such as Mick Schumacher, David Coulthard, Johan Kristoffersson and others over the course of the two-day competition.
Despite many hailing O’Ward as a potential “rising star” of motorsports, his growing reputation is seemingly not enough to keep him at Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Rumours had been circulating over the last few days that the team were struggling to find the budget to run both O’Ward and Herta; with Herta potentially having the better funds. Harding Steinbrenner Racing have yet to make an official comment on O’Ward’s departure.
Whilst Harding has yet to comment, Indy Lights driver Santiago Urrutia took to Twitter to support O’Ward, calling Harding Steinbrenner “an unprofessional team” and saying that he had been falsely promised a seat for 2018. This adds further fuel to speculations that the team made the decision on O’Ward’s departure.
Thankfully for O’Ward, his victory in the Indy Lights championship last year has earned him a scholarship from the Road to Indy program. The funds from this program could prove vital in Patricio’s search for a seat on the grid this year.
Potential opportunities for O’Ward could come in the shape of teams such as Juncos Racing or Carlin; who have both commented in recent months about the possibility of running an extra car this season.
It is not yet known as to whether Harding Steinbrenner Racing will find a new driver to fill a potential second car, or whether the team will revert back to a single-car effort; with the potential of fielding extra entries at specific races such as the Indianapolis 500.
The official pre-season test for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series kicks off tomorrow at the Circuit of the Americas. The two-day test will be streamed via IndyCar’s social media channels.
The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series will get under-way with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 10.