The Way Things Ought To Be

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Last week, we got written confirmation on what we had all heard about two weeks ago. That is, that Harding Steinbrenner Racing will run Honda engines in 2019. This is a significant development for a lot of reasons, but most importantly – it eliminates the whole mess of their involvement with Andretti Autosport and two different engine manufacturers.

If you recall at the end of this past season, Michael Andretti’s team was already providing some technical support to Harding Racing for the season finale at Sonoma. With Andretti Autosport being a Honda team since 2014 and Harding Racing being a Chevrolet team since their inception in 2017 – the conflict was obvious. Chevy blocked out any proprietary engine information being made available to the Andretti engineers working on the car for that one race.

With Fernando Alonso and/or McLaren in the conversation for a possible fulltime IndyCar run and Andretti’s relationship to both parties in the past, there was speculation that Andretti might possibly switch back to Chevy. That was precipitated by further speculation that Honda would not allow any association with McLaren in IndyCar, due to their Formula One disputes.

There was even more speculation that Andretti Autosport would merge with Harding Racing and run it in partnership with McLaren; keeping the Harding tie-in with Chevy, while running his primary team with Honda. That scenario managed to infuriate practically everyone in the paddock that was not associated with either Harding or Andretti. Few topics have united the paddock like that one. It was looking like one giant muddle mess.

Things cleared up a little bit when McLaren backed off from running IndyCar fulltime. Then the picture cleared even further when McLaren announced they would return to the Indianapolis 500 as a stand-alone team, meaning they would not have any association with Andretti Autosport. To no one’s surprise, McLaren recently announced that they would have Chevy power for the Indianapolis 500. One can assume that any further involvement with IndyCar would be with Chevy.

That only left one question mark – with Andretti’s technical assistance to what is now known as Harding Steinbrenner Racing (HSR), what engine partner would they choose. Would they stay with Chevy, the manufacturer they were used to; or would they switch to Honda, increasing the imbalance of more fulltime Honda entries.

The only fulltime IndyCar teams to have Chevy power for 2019 will be Foyt (2), Carlin (2), ECR (2) and Penske (3) for a total of nine cars. Honda will power the teams of Andretti (4), Ganassi (2), Coyne (2), HSR (2), Rahal (2), Schmidt (2) and the near-fulltime car of Meyer-Shank (1) for a total of fifteen. Wow! Does that really mean that practically every race will have twenty-four cars on the grid? Someone is doing something right, but I digress…

Aside from a 15/9 imbalance, this is the way things should be. There was just going to be something dirty about Michael Andretti having an affiliation with both manufacturers.

Although Andretti Autosport is only providing technical assistance with things such as dampers and shocks, let’s not kid ourselves – the affiliation with HSR will go deeper than that, if it doesn’t already. Who did 2019 HSR driver Patricio (Pato) O’ Ward drive for in winning the 2018 Indy Lights championship? Andretti Autosport. Who is the father of the other 2019 HSR driver Colton Herta? Andretti Autosport business partner Bryan Herta. Who did Colton Herta drive for when he finished second in the 2018 Indy Lights championship? Andretti Steinbrenner Racing.

Those dots are too obvious to not connect. My prediction is that at some point in the next two to three years; Mike Harding will either grow tired of the struggle or run out of extra money to pour into this hobby. His name will drop off and this fledgling team will become Andretti Steinbrenner Racing, just like in Indy Lights. It will be similar to when ECR merged with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to become CFH Racing. How long did that last before it reverted to Ed Carpenter Racing? The answer is one season.

George Michael Steinbrenner IV is an ambitious owner. He is the grandson of the legendary New York Yankees owner, the late George Steinbrenner. At only twenty-two, he is the youngest IndyCar owner in the paddock. Although he is passionate about IndyCar and has been for most of his young life, he is smart enough to know he is too inexperienced to go at this alone. Through his Indy Lights program, he has had an association with Michael Andretti since the 2017 season.

Michael Andretti has shown a continuous desire to expand his racing empire. Besides his successful IndyCar team, he has programs in Indy Lights, Formula E and Rallycross. He has also been involved in Pro Mazda, US F2000, ALMS and A1GP. Expanding to a satellite team such as HSR gives Michael the opportunity to expand his footprint in IndyCar and provides vital experience to the young Steinbrenner as he learns the ropes of being an IndyCar owner.

The rumors of an Andretti involvement with Harding Racing started swirling back in the summer, and that’s when the questions of engine manufacturers began. We got confirmation of Steinbrenner’s involvement with the team in September, along with their driver lineup. The switch to Honda for HSR to align with Andretti Autosport was the only logical solution and we knew that back in September. Why did it take until December to have it confirmed? Whatever the reason, it’s clean and is what makes sense. This is the way things out to be.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “The Way Things Ought To Be”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    We’re probably only a few years away from it becoming the Michael Andretti Racing League. He apparently was even toying with the idea of buying the Force India F1 team. Kinda glad that didn’t happen, it’s such a big money suck I think it could have hampered all his other racing interests.

  2. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    I don’t think Andretti would have switched to Chevy because they would likely lose Rossi as a driver. Alexander is very much tied to Honda and would almost certainly change teams. Andretti doesn’t want to lose a driver of his ability.

  3. Granted this all will change if the ever-desirous 3rd engine manufacturer comes on board, but as things currently stand, though I agree with the Harding Steinbrenner switch, I would like to see either Rahal or Coyne or both switch to Chevy to balance the grid. I know they can’t make an owner switch, but perhaps a little financial incentive could help. Then again, I’ve read that Chevy would be happy only having Penske. Can’t blame ‘em there I suppose.

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