The good story of 2019 does not feel very good at the moment. The fantastic teenage tandem of Pato O & # 39; Ward and Colton Herta will not be teammates in the NTT IndyCar Series after all.
Basically, it comes down to the fact that there is not enough money for Harding Steinbrenner Racing to get two cars for the Indy Lights champion of 2018 and the second generation talent. O'Ward saw the letter on the wall and asked to be released from his contract with Mike Harding, which was awarded earlier today. Herta (in the photo above in Sonoma last fall) He is in the Circuit of the Americas for spring training on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and it seems that he will continue with the team.
Now, this is not a good / bad boy story, but it is a field of dreams and the realities of great motor sports.
Harding entered IndyCar in 2017 with a single car, Gabby Chaves as a driver, without a sponsor, a small team and with high hopes of becoming a two-car operation. That first year was an anomaly since Chaves finished ninth in Indianapolis, fifth in Texas and eighth fastest in Pocono without putting a scratch on his car. This is not how new equipment usually starts.
Last year was more of the norm because, aside from qualifying eighth in the first game of the season at St. Pete, Chaves had problems with no teammate, older suspension parts and lack of engineering until Gerald Tyler was hired as a technical director. Conor Daly was taken to an emerging hit in three races and moved the team in the right direction with his comments and pace on the chassis.
Then, at the end of the season at Sonoma, Harding (with the help of Andretti Autosport mechanics and engineers) placed cars for O'Ward and Herta when Chaves was parked and received a purchase (he had 2019 remaining on his contract).
In qualifying, O'Ward gave a demonstration of his hallucinatory ability by posting the fastest fifth time of the 25 riders! Then she ran ninth on her IndyCar debut, while little Herta sold at home 20 after starting on the 19th.
They were a few days away from being featured as IndyCar teammates in a dazzling video presentation at Yankee Stadium. Then, the New York media, which does not recognize motor racing as a sport, made unthinkable and ruined stories about the advancement of George Michael Steinbrenner in IndyCar. It was a good story complete with headlines in the Post, Daily News and Newsday. Having Hank Steinbrenner and his son in the IndyCar family was one of the biggest catches since Paul Newman jumped 35 years earlier.
But as the calendar entered 2019, we began to hear stories. Harding had fired everyone except a couple of people. Nothing happened at the Main Street store in Speedway because the money was limited, to be nice. And Steinbrenner had not yet announced any sponsorship.
The understanding was that Steinbrenner would take over Herta, while Harding handled O'Ward, in terms of finding money.
Throughout the month of January I kept postponing the call to Harding Racing president Brian Barnhart, because I expected things to get better in spring training. Finally, I called O'Ward a couple of weeks ago and was distressed because I did not have a car or a crew, so I could gather. He was told to be patient, but he wanted Harding to release him so he could take his $ 1 million bonus in the Lights championship to another team and try to rescue something by 2019.
And that's where we are today. It seems that the small Hertamania is going to be a single-car band with Steinbrenner / Harding while O'Ward buys five or six races (maybe with Andretti?).
Now the fans of our Mailbag on RACER.com are writing and wondering how this could happen. How could a team make all these grandiose plans without having the established funds? The best I can guess is that Hank Steinbrenner is as well connected as any athlete in this country and has people looking and eventually find sponsorship, but has the means to get things going. And partner Sean Jones is doing everything possible for his friend, George Michael. Mike Harding also has people looking for money but, to date, he has not found any in three years.
And you can not throw two Indy cars in the future.
I've done this for 51 years and I remember a press conference with James Garner announcing his IndyCar team and he never turned the wheel. Cedric the Entertainer was going to help find millions for Tony Bettenhausen's old team, but he never raised a dime. Happens.
But this is a fun business. Everyone wants to hear the truth until they get involved. The IndyCar fraternity has been whispering about this story for months, but some of us decided to tread lightly in the hope that things would change.
The Harding Steinbrenner camp is understandably bumpy on people who question its viability. But Marshall Pruett and I have defended this pairing since it was first hinted at last summer and we kept it on purpose until the press release came out. Then we delayed in reporting what was really going on this winter until recently because we wanted to give this team the benefit of the doubt. Hell, everyone I wanted this team to work because it was a great story with a couple of great kids and two gung-ho owners.
While I take my hat off to Harding for agreeing to release Pato, I wish he had been ahead of him a few months ago. And I do not think Mike would have given up this child if there was any chance of saving things. Unless IndyCar intervenes to help with a free engine or some money, I'm not sure that this 19-year phenomenon is in more than a handful of races in 2019. And that sucks.
The Steinbrenners are excited about IndyCar and, hopefully, can unite things and be present for a long time. The same goes for Harding.
It was a great story, O'Ward and Herta, and it can still be, but not as teammates.