Alonso/Andretti for 2020 Indy?

Michael Andretti admits he’s talked to Fernando Alonso about running the 2020 Indianapolis 500, but right now it’s a long way from being a done deal.

“We’ve talked about it and I’d love to have him drive for us again. But a lot of things would have to happen,” said Andretti, who gave the Spaniard his first IndyCar ride at Indianapolis in 2017.

“He has to decide what he wants to do and he could still end up with McLaren; but there’s other stuff,” Andretti added. “It’s a possibility, but not a good possibility.”

The “other stuff” is, of course, the Honda roadblock. After referring to his Formula 1 motor as a “GP2 engine” during his final year with Team McLaren, the two-time world champion fell out of favor with the Japanese automaker. In his return to IMS last May with McLaren, Alonso was in a Chevrolet because Honda refused to power either the team or driver.

And it’s believed that when McLaren CEO Zak Brown made an offer to partner with Andretti last summer for the 2020 IndyCar season, Honda of Japan was approached about forgiving and forgetting but refused to budge. Andretti Autosport stayed with Honda while McLaren’s first full-time assault in the NTT IndyCar Series next year with Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew will be with Chevrolet.

“I’d love to get back together and and try to get him his first win at Indy,” said Andretti, whose cars have pulled into Victory Lane five times. “We’ve talked about it many times — and also about him driving other things for us — but right now its just talk.”

Alonso was Rookie of the Year at Indy in 2017, starting fifth and leading 27 laps before blowing up. But he missed the show last May in McLaren’s muffed return to the Speedway.

Andretti is set to campaign four full-time cars next season, with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach. James Hinchcliffe could be in the mix for an Indy-only ride if nothing materializes full-time for The Mayor.

INSIGHT: Winding down IndyCar’s biggest little team

The winding-down process is underway at Harding Steinbrenner Racing. The three-year-old team, which scored three poles and two wins this season with Colton Herta in the No. 88 Honda, will consolidate with Andretti Autosport over the coming months. HSR’s equipment, and some of its personnel, will move to Andretti’s facility as Herta’s entry joins the four full-time programs for Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, and Zach Veach.

Interviews with current team members began last week at HSR’s Speedway, Indiana-based shop, and will continue until the merger, under the Andretti Harding Steinbrenner name, is complete.

“It’s really something that has come out of nowhere and caught us off-guard, because the original plan that was created in 2018 with this partnership did not contemplate taking the Harding Steinbrenner car in-house at Andretti Autosport in 2020,” says HSR president Brian Barnhart.

“It was designed to be a three-year relationship with Andretti Technologies where Harding Steinbrenner Racing really was a development program and we were focused on developing personnel, we were focused on developing components, we were focused on developing relationships, sponsors, whatever, and looked at that being a three-year program.”

Most of the HSR team took a week off after the September 22 season finale in Monterey. Since returning to work, sorting the team’s assets has been Barnhart’s primary focus.

“There’s so many details associated with the logistics move, the parts, the people, everybody from management people, to driver coaches like Little Al, to the shop floor guys,” he says. “Andretti has been spectacular. Rob Edwards and Michael and J-F have all said, ‘Everybody’s going to get an opportunity to be interviewed and apply for positions moving up there.’ They’ve got a lot of programs under that roof now to begin with, with rallycross and with multiple Indy Lights programs and with multiple IndyCar programs.”

Starting with race engineer Nathan O’Rourke, Herta outlined a number of must-have crew members as part of HSR’s transition within Andretti Autosport. Barnhart anticipates some, but not all, of the race-winning 2019 HSR team will find a home at Andretti.

“So, the personnel is a little bit of a tricky one because they’re going to want to promote from within,” he continues. “They’re going to give people other opportunities off of those other programs. And that’s the other thing; the success gives you the opportunity to pick and choose the best of the best and make each program, each of the what will be the five cars under that roof, as strong as they can be, with the best people on each of them. So we’re just now into that process. We did a couple of interviews before we went to Laguna.

“Most guys took the week off after Laguna for some vacation time, and we’ve been continuing the interviewing process with everyone on the shop floor and getting an opportunity of where they see themselves, partially explaining the difference between being a little one-car team and moving into a larger, more corporate environment with multiple sponsors and five cars and other programs under one roof. And just how small team versus big team function and operate, and just going through that process with all the people.”

Blending the racing assets of HSR with Andretti Autosport will occupy most of October.

“It’s very complicated, time-consuming, and one of the biggest challenges, before you even get into the equipment transition, with the race cars that we have, whether it’s tractors and trailers, or sub assembly parts and brakes and gearboxes and wings and body work and spring inventory and shocks and all that stuff,” Barnhart says. “It’s going to be a lot of paperwork and a lot of detail-oriented work over the next month, for sure.”

As he works towards closing the doors at HSR, Barnhart gives credit to its founder who, along with the Steinbrenner family, and one key sponsor, prevented the team from folding halfway through the 2019 championship.

“You look at Mike Harding as an individual, and he’s been more dedicated and has probably persevered as an IndyCar owner without major sponsorship longer than any other individual that I’ve ever seen,” he says. “And that speaks to his dedication and his commitment to keeping this thing up and going, and keeping guys on the payroll and running this thing without sponsors.

“We thought we had a decent in-season relationship developed with a company that didn’t come to fruition, and it really was just a setback. And Mike just kept plugging away and doing it all on his own. We ended up getting a little help from Toronto on, from the Capstone Turbine Corporation. And they were a great little help to us, and really one of the biggest reasons we were able to finish the season this year was them stepping up to the plate.

“And that’s why this relationship moving forward, it’s the right thing for Mike Harding as well, because the new proposed relationship between Michael Andretti, Mike Harding, and George Steinbrenner is by far the better financially responsible position for Mike Harding to take as well.”

Barnhart was nothing short of a miracle worker during HSR’s brief and cash-strapped existence. Keeping the program alive during repeated funding shortfalls, forming the strategic partnership with Andretti Technologies, and bringing it together with Andretti Autosport – as Herta was being pursued by Arrow McLaren SP for 2020 – have been among his more impressive accomplishments in the sport. It’s unclear whether his future will reside with the Andretti outfit, or if his tenure atop an IndyCar team will reach its conclusion when the lights go out at HSR.

“It is one of those things that with everybody else, will be discussed and talked about moving forward,” he says. It’s a little bit more of a challenge. One of the economies of scale of running multiple car teams is you don’t replicate management. So that is a bit of a struggle for my position or where we’re at, because Andretti Autosport is very well-staffed with J-F Thormann and Rob Edwards and Josh Freund and Paul ‘Ziggy’ Harcus. They’ve got a lot of great people up there right now.

“So on a personal level, I certainly will do everything I can. My responsibility as it currently sits is to make sure I do the best I can for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, and when this merger takes place physically and moves inside that building up there, I’ll just try and do whatever I can to hopefully have a place to fit in up there and be as good a team player as I can be, and add value to whatever that might happen.”

 

Andretti Autosport confirms Herta/HSR deal

Andretti Autosport confirmed today the news reported by RACER on Friday that it will field a fifth entry for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series in partnership with Harding Steinbrenner Racing for driver Colton Herta. The No. 88 Honda will join the Andretti stable under the Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport banner. HSR team principals Mike Harding and George Michael Steinbrenner IV will join Michael Andretti as leadership partners of the 88 team.

The partnership is born from a successful technical alliance between Andretti Technologies and Harding Steinbrenner Racing, which provided engineering support through the 2019 season. Additionally, the relationship provided a development environment for Herta, who will return to Andretti to drive the No. 88 as part of a multi-year agreement.

“I’m really excited about the announcement to bring our partnerships with Harding Steinbrenner closer together,” said Michael Andretti. “This partnership and expansion of Andretti Autosport will bring about a positive direction and new opportunities for all involved.

“I’m also thrilled to be able to keep Colton in the Andretti family. We’ve watched him grow and develop and we are excited to see the next chapter as he continues his charge in becoming a strong competitive force in the IndyCar Series.”

Herta, who climbed the European racing ranks before joining Andretti Autosport for the 2017 and 2018 Indy Lights seasons, ranks third in the IndyCar Rookie of the Year standings with one win and five top-10 finishes heading into this weekend’s season finale in Monterey.

“It’s always been a goal of mine to drive for Andretti Autosport ever since watching my dad drive for them in the mid 2000s,” said Herta. “I’m very thankful for the Steinbrenners and Mike Harding for their efforts through my career and continued efforts into this year. I’ve grown up around the Andretti team and many of the guys that have been working there since my dad’s days of driving are still with the team. I’m sure I’ll feel right at home. I can for sure tell you this is going to be the longest off season I’ve had in a while and I can’t wait to hop in my brand-new Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Indy car!”

Harding expressed satisfaction with his team’s accomplishments this season and looked forward to even better things with the program fully integrated into the Andretti team.

“I am very proud of Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season. The No. 88 crew, Colton Herta, and our partnership with Andretti Technologies have worked extremely well, and we have had some great accomplishments this season,” Harding noted. “I am also honored that the No. 88 will combine forces with Andretti Autosport to become Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season with Colton Herta as the driver.”

Steinbrenner IV added that he sees the move as a natural progression in hs long-term support of Herta’s driving efforts.

“We are extremely excited to be continuing and expanding our partnership with Andretti Autosport,” he said. “Andretti has become like family to me and the team as we have shared a connection since the very beginning of Steinbrenner Racing. We see this as an opportunity to build upon a successful 2019 and create an environment of sustained competitiveness. We are thrilled we have been able to retain Colton’s services and look forward to a fruitful tenure together.”

 

Herta to join Andretti in fifth Steinbrenner-backed entry in 2020

The Andretti/Steinbrenner livery will return next year in the NTT IndyCar Series.

As first reported by RACER.com last month, Colton Herta will join Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Zach Veach in the fifth car for Andretti Autosport with support from the Steinbrenner family. Official confirmation is expected on Saturday at Laguna Seca.

George Michael Steinbrenner and his father Hank, co-owner and co-chairman of the New York Yankees, began sponsoring Herta in Indy Lights for Andretti in 2017, and continued their association with the 19-year-old phenom this year in IndyCar with Mike Harding.

Herta has essentially been an unofficial Andretti driver during his impressive rookie season due to Harding Steinbrenner’s technical partnership with the team, which has included the engineering expertise of Nathan O’Rourke, who was loaned by to Harding by Andretti.

It’s been a hectic past few months for Herta, who became the youngest IndyCar winner of all-time (18) earlier this season at COTA. He had a multi-year deal with Harding, but the team has been in financial jeopardy for the past few months and its future is very much in doubt.

But Andretti also had a three-year contract with Herta that superseded Harding’s, and gave him the option to run the second-generation driver or find him a ride before he pursued other opportunities.

Herta was also very close to becoming the lead driver for a McLaren/Andretti alliance in 2020. McLaren CEO Zak Brown made Andretti a very generous offer to resume the partnership they started in 2017 with Fernando Alonso at Indianapolis. Because of the ill feelings between McLaren and Honda, Andretti would have had to switch to Chevrolet.

So Honda stood to lose Herta, Rossi and Hunter-Reay but ponied up a game-saving package, with help from DHL and AutoNation, to keep Andretti on board.

Immediately after it was confirmed that Rossi would be staying with Andretti and the team was staying with Honda, McLaren’s deal with Arrow SPM was announced, including SPM being allowed to get out of its Honda contract and join Chevy. James Hinchcliffe has a contract with Arrow SPM, and Brown is currently talking with Conor Daly among others about the second seat.

Rossi tops the time sheets in Friday ‘warm-up’

Alexander Rossi had a set of sticker reds for the Friday afternoon ‘warm-up’ session and he wasn’t afraid to use them, posting a 1m10.0988s to comfortably top the times.

“This morning was difficult because we didn’t get a lap in on blacks,” said Rossi, who coasted the final half of his last lap after running out of fuel and shutting the car off. “So we had to sacrifice the second session to through the checklist, and saved the reds for the warm-up. We’re getting there.”

Rossi, who didn’t use the softer compound in the second practice, was almost 0.8s faster than Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, leaving Colton Herta to complete an Andretti-aligned 1-2-3 with a lap just a couple of thousandths off Hunter-Reay’s best time. Scott Dixon and Conor Daly – continuing his ‘year of many firesuits’ by jumping back into Andretti’s No.25 for the weekend – rounded out the top five.

The red flags flew twice during the afternoon, for pretty much identical incidents. The first came within the opening minutes when Ed Jones stopped at the pit entry, while Colton Herta later brought things to halt by getting stuck in exactly the same spot.

For a moment it appeared that a third interruption might be on the cards when Graham Rahal caught the inside curb at the top of the Corkscrew and drove down it backwards; but he managed to gather himself up and continue.

Elsewhere, Sebastien Bourdais was sidelined from the session by a neck complaint.

Hunter-Reay quickest in second Laguna Seca practice

Ryan Hunter-Reay took advantage of the Firestone reds to put Andretti Autosport on top for the second NTT IndyCar Series practice session at Laguna Seca on Friday.

Hunter-Reay stopped the clocks at 1m09.9105s to edge out Ganassi’s Felix Rosenqvist by just 0.02s, leaving the morning pace-setter Colton Herta to round out the top three by the even narrower margin of 0.0012s.

Simon Pagenaud took the honors for best of the title contenders – and top Chevy – to finish up fourth-fastest, and said that the main takeaway from the afternoon was that there will be little margin for error in qualifying tomorrow.

“It looks like on lap two on the reds, and it looks like you only get one lap,” he said. “The tires degrade after that.”

Penske teammate and championship leader Josef Newgarden finished the afternoon in P6, one place ahead of fellow title protagonist Scott Dixon, who was responsible for the only red flag of the session when he went off and beached himself at the exit of Turn 10.

Alexander Rossi was again mired down in 23rd, but, while his backmarker status in the morning was the result of a ‘hardware problem’ – reported to be a stripped bolt – his afternoon time was the result of not setting a lap on the reds.

Elsewhere, there were encouraging signs for Foyt’s Matheus Leist, who was second-fastest on the blacks – just 0.04s off the benchmark set by Newgarden – before dropping back into the pack once the field began switching to the softer tires.

RESULTS

Hunter-Reay, Rossi swap cars at Laguna test

Andretti Autosport teammates Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay spent the latter stages of Thursday morning’s IndyCar test session at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca conducting a ride swap.

With Rossi inserted into Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda and RHR buckled into Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda, the two sampled each other’s chassis setup in an effort to point the Andretti engineers in a faster and sharper direction towards optimum handling.

Although Hunter-Reay, the 2012 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 214 Indy 500 winner, isn’t in contention for the title during this weekend’s season finale, Rossi holds second in the standings and holds a reasonable chance of overtaking championship leader Josef Newgarden in the double-points showdown.

Rossi turned five laps in Hunter-Reay’s car, which carries a special DHL anniversary livery this weekend.

“We’re just working together, and we’ve done this in testing at Sebring and we’d do it more often if we had the time,” Hunter-Reay told RACER. “With the open test today, we did have time and it let’s us try two radically different setups with two guys who are the same height, the same build, and go test at the same exact time on the racetrack, so we took advantage of that opportunity. I think we got some good reads out of it.”

Rossi turned five laps in Hunter-Reay’s car, turning a best of 1m12.5454s. In Rossi’s car, RHR produced a lap of 1m13.0518s in seven tours of the 11-turn, 2.3-mile road course — and made hand gestures after climbing from the car that indicated it demanded his full attention.

Rossi’s engineer Jeremy Milless and Hunter-Reay’s engineer Ray Gosselin will take the feedback provided from their drivers and make adjustments for the afternoon that should allow both cars to make rapid improvements.

“It helps give us an idea of what tire degradation is like with each setup, how both might react in race conditions,” Hunter-Reay continued. “And when you have drivers who like the same setups, and fit the same car, it’s a no brainer.”