By: Tanner Watkins
May 9, 2019 | 1:00 PM
If you were to start your own NTT IndyCar Series team and fill it with members who really “know what Indy means,” the blueprint to follow would be Harding Steinbrenner Racing.
Entering the 2019 month of May, the Honda-powered team will have high hopes for a strong run in this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix as well as the 103rd Indianapolis 500 later this month.
For the road course race, HSR can draw on its early season success when it won with rookie Colton Herta behind the wheel in a wild ending at Circuit of the Americas. And for the Indianapolis 500? Look no further than the staff of Indy stalwarts that will certainly make Harding Steinbrenner a contender for this year’s “500.”
Team president Brian Barnhart and executive consultant Al Unser Jr. have more than enough Indianapolis expertise for IndyCar rookies Herta and co-owner George Michael Steinbrenner IV to rely on. Furthermore, Herta and Steinbrenner have the roots and DNA to succeed in this series – potentially right now, on its biggest stage.
For Steinbrenner, taking his first shot at the Indianapolis 500 is the realization of a lifelong dream. A cousin of the late Tony Renna, Steinbrenner understands the highs and the lows that Indianapolis can provide.
“It’s a huge deal,” said Steinbrenner of his first Indianapolis 500 experience. “It’s the granddaddy of them all for us, and I don’t think it’s really going to sink in until we’re on the Yard of Bricks for the race.”
At this point, Steinbrenner notes that it is tough to tell where the team will be at for the start of the month, but with crisp execution he believes that HSR will be tough to beat by race day.
“I think (it is) mostly based on execution, and the more races that this team has,” Steinbrenner said, regarding their results. “We know we are quick – the cars are fast, the team is fast and the driver is fast. It’s just always about execution and getting a little more experience with this crew together and working on our execution.
“It worked out for us in Austin. We had perfect execution and a little bit of luck. There have been some races where execution hasn’t been as great throughout the weekend, whether it be in the race, qualifying or practice.
“We’re not quite clicking on all cylinders yet, consistently, but we have the pieces to do so and I think it’ll just take a little bit more time,” continued Steinbrenner. “Thankfully at the Speedway you get a lot of time to figure things out, and I think these guys will definitely rise to the occasion.
“When its all said and done, we will roll up to the Yard of Brick before the start with a car that we think could be pretty competitive.”
But what about the other half of the Harding Steinbrenner Racing ownership duo? Well for starters, confidence in the No. 88 machine doesn’t start and end with the young Steinbrenner.
Mike Harding, entering his third month of May as a car owner, knows that he’s got his best bullet in the chamber with Herta. After finishes of 9th (2017) and 15th (2018), Harding is ready to take his best shot at the BorgWarner Trophy with the 19-year-old driver.
“Obviously, we would like to finish in the top five but I think Colton is capable of winning the race – both races – this month, so that is what we are shooting for,” said Harding earlier this week. “A top five would be nice.”
The belief in Herta wasn’t born yesterday for Harding. While he will admit to less observation of other young drivers around the series, Harding understands the difference in Herta to some of the other youthful pilots he has had in his cars.
“I don’t know too many of the other drivers, but Colton is very mature for his age,” states Harding. “The technical feedback that he has with our engineers is probably second to none in his age category… plus George Michael is just like Colton: he is very mature for his age. I think they lean on each other a lot and I think that is just a home run for both of them.”
At the end of the day, Harding will be hoping his two pairings – Barnhart and Unser Jr., plus Herta and Steinbrenner – are enough to get his team across the finish line first on May 26. By hiring the right people and allowing them to do their job, Harding knows that gives him the best chance to succeed at this level.
“It’s like my parent company – I surround myself with very, very smart and knowledgeable people, and I think that’s why my parent company is so successful,” Harding, the owner of Harding Concrete, adds.
“I became decent friends with Mike Hull and I wanted a Mike Hull type of guy (on HSR), so Al Unser Jr. came up with Brian Barnhart. We set our goal to try to get him – and we didn’t think we could get him – but we ended up getting him. He has been a wealth of knowledge. He has been at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for what, 20 years? And running IndyCar for that long… the guy has a wealth of knowledge – and so does Al.
“I’m just trying to have peoples surround me that aren’t ‘yes men’ and have a lot of experience.”
In the end, it could be a strategy like that which results in the entire Harding Steinbrenner Racing team screaming “yes” after 500 miles – and you’d have to imagine that the HSR core would be just fine being “yes men” for that May afternoon in Indianapolis.
Header image by Chris Jones/INDYCAR.
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.