By: Tanner Watkins
December 6, 2018 | 8:33 AM
If a real one-to-one partnership with Andretti Autosport was going to remain in the picture, it was clear that Harding Steinbrenner Racing would need to change engine manufacturers for the 2019 season. In a press release distributed this morning, the third-year team has done just that by giving Chevrolet its pink slip.
As rookies Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta joined HSR for 2019, there was little chance that Andretti Autosport would allow two of its most prized developmental drivers stray too far from the parent organization. O’Ward won the 2018 Indy Lights championship driving for Andretti while Herta finished second for George Steinbrenner IV’s team, which ran in partnership with Andretti Autosport.
Speculation of funding shortfalls have dangled around Harding Steinbrenner Racing this offseason while some believed the engine announcement delay was cause for concern. Fortunately for the Indianapolis-based team, the wait is over and real development for the 2019 season can begin.
“First of all, Harding Steinbrenner Racing is very appreciative of our relationship with Chevrolet in 2017 and 2018,” said team president Brian Barnhart. “However, our direction as a race team closely aligns with Honda for the near future. Therefore, we will be making a change to Honda and Honda Performance Development engines.
“We’re excited about their emphasis on the development of young talent and with our announcement of Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward joining our team next year, it’s a natural fit for Harding Steinbrenner Racing and Honda to align in 2019.”
It is interesting to note that Barnhart stated their move closely aligns to the team’s values “for the near future.” For more than a year now, rumors have floated that Andretti Autosport will look for a move to Chevrolet in 2020. It is very possible that Harding Steinbrenner runs under the Honda umbrella for one season before moving back to Chevrolet in 2020 with Andretti.
Additionally, the Harding Steinbrenner move to Honda tips the scales even further in the direction of the Japanese company as we consider car counts. At present, there are 14 full-time entries that will be running the Honda engine program, compared to only nine for Chevrolet.
It seems Honda is perfectly content with stacking the cupboard with IndyCar Series teams in an attempt to strengthen their chances at winning.
“We are delighted to have Harding Steinbrenner Racing join Honda’s IndyCar Series effort for 2019.,” said Art St. Cyr, President, Honda Performance Development. “At Honda Performance Development, we are always looking to the future, as seen with our development series: quarter midgets, karting, Formula F, US F4 and F3 Americas. We are excited to welcome a team with enthusiastic ownership that also believes developing drivers solidifies our lineup today, and into the future.
“With a pair of young North American drivers, Harding Steinbrenner Racing strengthens our overall racing effort and represents the future of our sport. We warmly welcome the team to the HPD family and look forward to working with them this season.”
Harding Racing made their debut at the 2017 Indianapolis 500 with Gabby Chaves as their driver and Chevrolet as the engine supplier. The team finished an impressive 9th in their debut race while also picking up a 5th place finish at Texas and a run of 15th at Pocono.
This past season, Harding remained a Chevrolet team as they embarked on a first full season in IndyCar. Chaves began the season as their primary driver before auditioning a trio of candidates down the stretch, including not only O’Ward and Herta but also Conor Daly.
When O’Ward and Herta finished 1-2 in the Indy Lights championship, Harding Racing merged with the developing Steinbrenner Racing to form a two-car powerhouse for 2019. As a brand new team owner for 2019, the move to Honda only heightens the excitement for Steinbrenner IV.
“I’m excited to move forward as a new owner in the series and to be joining the Honda INDYCAR family,” said George Michael Steinbrenner IV. “Honda has meant a lot to the IndyCar Series for as long as I can remember, and I’m excited to have such a prestigious name in INDYCAR join us for the 2019 season.
“Over the past few seasons, Honda Performance Development has shown its ability to win races and that’s what we’re here to do as well.”
Harding Steinbrenner Racing, as well as the rest of the IndyCar Series, will kick off the 2019 season on March 10 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Header image by Stephen King/INDYCAR.