Rossi’s Texas green no threat to Herta’s backing

When Alexander Rossi showed up at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend with GESS and Capstone sponsorship displayed all over the side of his Andretti Autosport Honda, fans of Colton Herta and Harding Steinbrenner Racing feared the worst.

GESS had come on board with Herta after the 18-year-old became the youngest winner in IndyCar history at COTA last March; but what did this mean? Was the bio gas company from North Carolina switching its allegiance halfway through the NTT IndyCar season?

As it turns out, no: GESS (and Capstone) will be with Herta through the remainder of the 2019 season, just as they’d agreed back in May.

A story by the Associated Press out of Texas noted that GESS had confirmed its deal for the remainder of 2019.

“ was really just an affirmation of what GESS had committed last May, so there was no press release or anything or nothing new; I just spoke to AP about our situation,” said Brian Barnhart, the president of Harding Steinbrenner Racing. “It allows us to breathe a little easier.”

Sean Lee, the CEO of GESS, sponsored Pato O’Ward at Long Beach and Rossi at Texas (and will again at Pocono in August) to spread the wealth, so to speak, and to promote IndyCar.

“He’s focused on Colton,” continued Barnhart, “but it was actually kinda cool we were able to deliver something nice to Michael Andretti for all the help they’ve given us.”

Andretti is Harding Steinbrenner’s technical partner.

Capstone is a turbine corporation that does business with GESS. Its name will also will be on Hertas’s car the final eight races.

No laps in the lead, but Herta stole the show

Colton Herta walked out of the infield hospital on Saturday night and watched the final 12 laps on the NBC camera that was waiting to interview him.

“Man, that was some good racing out there tonight,” he exclaimed.

Oh yes it was, and Herta was the main reason.

The 19-year-old American never led a lap of the DXC Technology 600, but he stole the show with his outside passes and daring driving before being knocked out trying to pass Scott Dixon for second place on Lap 229.

And the way he was chewing up people he very easily could have won his second race of the year.

“I don’t think there was any doubt about it. Colton was going to win,” said George Michael Steinbrenner, co-owner of the Harding/Steinbrenner team. “He is something else.”

The youngest winner in IndyCar history (he was 18 last March when he triumphed at COTA) looked like Alex Rossi as he carved through traffic, and was one of the few able to pass on the outside in his GESS Honda, looked every bit a seasoned veteran instead of a teenager making his debut at the ultra-fast Texas Speedway.

“It was fun while is lasted and I had a great car,” said the second-generation driver from California who also made a couple of great saves during the evening. “I thought it was good stuff because it wasn’t pack racing but it was good, hard racing, and you had to be handling to make passes.

“I’m really happy with how the car was. The GESS Capstone car all the boys did an amazing job. Big congrats to IndyCar for bringing the updates to the front wing and the new tires because it made the racing a hell of a lot better.

“We’ll keep trucking. This is a DNF that I’ll take because I was really happy with my performance.”

The deciding point of his race came as he was trying to get past five-time IndyCar champion and three-time Texas winner, Scott Dixon. Herta got a great run coming off Turn 2 and then dove to the inside. Dixon, one of the cleanest drivers on record, moved Herta down the track, under the white line, and they touched as they flew into Turn 3 at 220 mph.

They both spun into the wall. Later, Dixon took the blame.

“I just heard them saying the other car was looking inside and I started to track down to try and close it off,” explained Dixie. “It was toward the end of the race. As I was doing that and looking down, I could still see his shadow there on the apron and I knew it wasn’t going to work out there.

“Sorry if that was my fault. I was just really pushing and trying to get the most out of it toward the end of the race in the PNC Bank car.”

Herta accepted an apology from the ever-classy Dixon.

“ apologized and that’s what it seemed like from my point of view. I seen a replay yet or anything, but he just turned down on me from my point of view. I was there and he put me on the apron. I was more than enough ahead. He didn’t need to do it. That outside lane was there, and he could have run the outside. He must not have known .”

Maybe not, but everyone in the grandstand knew No. 88 was worth the price of admission.

HSR still fighting to bridge funding gap

One of the great stories to emerge during the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season will need some help to add new chapters and author a proper ending. RACER has learned Harding Steinbrenner Racing, winners of the Circuit of The Americas round with teenage phenom Colton Herta, have hit another rough patch with funding the No. 88 Honda.

Multiple sources have confirmed the team’s recent financial plight, which includes a couple of rather extraordinary shows of faith and commitment by the No. 88 crew members, some of whom have spent their own money to buy consumables — cable ties and other small items needed to assemble the car — and others who’ve paid to acquire chassis components that offer higher performance levels than stock units.

The close-knit group, banding together to keep Herta’s rookie season moving forward, have made a remarkable commitment to the HSR program, but selfless mechanics and engineers are not meant to fund the program. Although the No. 88 has worn some sponsorship in recent rounds, identifying new sponsors is believed to be necessary to safely secure the team’s ongoing participation in the series.

With eight of 17 races completed in the championship, and Round 9 due this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, the theme of a small, promising team needing financial support is a familiar one following the Indianapolis 500, where the Juncos Racing team experienced a similar situation. Noting the opportunity and value presented by Juncos and its driver Kyle Kaiser, the team secured more than two dozen sponsors for IndyCar’s biggest race.

As a race winner this season, and with the team’s direct ties to the New York Yankees through co-owner George Steinbrenner IV, HSR and the series have a next-generation talent in Herta, whose slashing driving style and boisterous personality should be an easier pitch to potential backers.

“0.1 less of a degree and I would have been in the fence” – Herta

Colton Herta’s brave qualifying run may have been one of the highlights from Saturday’s busy day of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, and the precocious rookie admitted he had felt himself on the ragged edge.

“We trimmed a lot, actually. Almost irresponsible amount for the wind,” Herta said after strapping himself into Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s rocket to take a crack at improving his Fast 9 qualifying speed.

“0.1 less of a degree and I would have been in the fence. That was it. My ass was telling me the whole time that this was not OK. That the rear was coming . But it didn’t.”

Herta’s No. 88 Honda darted and slid and looked like it was moments away from calamity throughout the teenager’s blast to fifth fastest in tricky ambient conditions. High heat and high winds, countered by a heavy dose of youthful enthusiasm gave the second-generation racer a prime opportunity to do something memorable in Saturday’s qualifying session.

Jumping up from eighth to fifth with a wildly unexpected run late in the day, Herta found multiple ways to credit his backside for giving him the chassis feedback needed to hold onto a 230 mph car carrying minimal downforce.

“I just looked at it and said I’ll either go faster here or I’ll be in the wall, with the amount we trimmed,” the Circuit of The Americas race winner added. “We already solidified ourselves in the Fast 9. There wasn’t too much risk, except for breaking the race car.

“I think maybe my butt’s doing good. I’m not known for having a thick butt, so I do feel the race car quite well. Maybe that’s one of the attributes that helped me today.”

With rain in the forecast for Sunday, and IndyCar’s rules calling for Saturday’s Fast 9 speeds to be used to set the grid if final qualifying is scratched, the risks taken to leap from Row 3 to Row 2 could prove beneficial.

 

The Day At Indy, May 18, with Pigot, Clauson, Newgarden and Herta

It’s another packed episode of The Day At Indy podcast, as a wild day of qualifying for the Indy 500, led by our opening guest — Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot — saw McLaren Racing and Fernando Alonso miss out on securing a spot in the field, while Tim Clauson’s Clauson-Marshall Racing USAC dirt racing program earned the 30th and final position available on Saturday.

Clauson is joined by Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden who, like Pigot, earned the right to vie for pole position on Sunday after capturing a spot in the Fast 9.

We close with Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta, who posted the fifth-fastest speed and will also take a shot at pole, and who shares several insights on his amazing performance today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Herta unmoved by speed at Indy

Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta has made a habit of defying all expectations held for a rookie NTT IndyCar Series driver.

Ending his first day fifth overall, fastest among the 18 Honda-powered drivers, and second on the no-tow chart for Hondas during the opening practice session for the Indy 500, might seem like something to celebrate. But that’s not how the 19-year-old is wired.

“We were the second Honda, so it wasn’t terrible,” Herta told RACER after closing Tuesday with a best of 228.284 mph. “I don’t really care about the overall times. It doesn’t really matter to me. But as long as we were quick in the no-tow times, and I’m pretty happy with the race car, that’s what matters.”

Like many others, Herta’s plan for the day centered on running with other cars in search of handling and aerodynamic improvements that would help on race day.

“Working on the race set-up, we found maybe one or two things,” he said. “It was a day of making changes: ‘Did that do anything?’ ‘No.’ ‘Did that do anything?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you feel that?’ ‘No.’

“A bit of a busy day, but a fast day.”

Herta leads Indy GP warm-up

Colton Herta continued his promising Indy GP weekend by topping the final warm-up session ahead of this afternoon’s IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis.

Herta, who qualified fourth for the race, led the way Saturday morning with a 1m09.2003s in his No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Honda backed by GESS International — which incidentally confirmed today it would also provide associate sponsorship for all four cars of Harding Steinbrenner partner Andretti Autosport for this race and all five Andretti cars in the Indianapolis 500.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon was second, 0.38s back, ahead of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan duo of Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal. Sebastien Bourdais in the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan entry Honda entry rounded out the top five, while the fastest Chevrolet-powered car was Max Chilton’s Carlin entry, in seventh.

RESULTS

UP NEXT: The forecast is still for rain ahead of the 3:40pm ET scheduled start of today’s race.