Getty Images

Brian Barnhart leaves INDYCAR to become Harding Racing president

3 Comments

File this one under somewhat stunning news: longtime INDYCAR Race Director Brian Barnhart is moving back to the team side of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Harding Racing announced Wednesday Barnhart will serve as its team president. This will see him work alongside Al Unser Jr., a former race steward who’s now Harding’s team executive consultant, for driver Gabby Chaves in the No. 88 Chevrolet.

Mike Harding had never formally confirmed his team’s participation for 2018 full-time but strongly hinted at it at Pocono, the team’s last start of the year.

The full release is below.

Gabby Chaves during practice at Pocono Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Brian Barnhart has been named President of Harding Racing, effective December 18, 2017. Barnhart, will be based at the Harding Racing corporate office in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“We are thrilled to have Brian join Harding Racing. Brian’s years of experience on both the IndyCar competition side and the operations side makes him an invaluable resource within the league,” said Mike Harding, owner of Harding Racing. “We have the legendary Al Unser, Jr., an incredibly talented young driver in Gabby Chaves, a hand-picked winning crew led by team manager, Larry Curry, and now Brian. He is the missing piece that will take Harding Racing to victory lane.”

Barnhart’s tenure in the operational side of INDYCAR began in 1997 where he served in various roles, most recently as Vice President of Competition and Head of Race Control. Prior to his move to INDYCAR, Barnhart spent several years as a crew member for multiple race teams including Al Unser Jr.’s winning teams.

“I am so appreciative of my years at INDYCAR and with the Hulman-George family,” said Barnhart. “The opportunity from Harding Racing to return to the competition side of INDYCAR racing was too hard to pass. I am very excited about the incredible opportunity to work with Harding Racing and alongside Al Unser Jr. again.”

“I’m excited to partner with Brian again,” said team executive consultant, Al Unser Jr. “In our younger years, we won two Indianapolis 500s and two CART Championships together. I’m looking forward to celebrating many more victories with Brian and Harding Racing.”

Indianapolis based Harding Racing made its Verizon INDYCAR Series debut at the 2017 Indianapolis 500. The team is led by Mike Harding, owner and CEO of Harding Group, a concrete and asphalt paving company based in Indianapolis. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. serves the team as executive consultant. Gabby Chaves, the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, is the driver of the #88 car. In addition to their ninth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500, the team competed at Texas Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway, finishing fifth and fifteenth respectively. The team plans to compete full-time in the 2018 Verizon INDYCAR season.

Harding Racing is part of Harding Group, a prominent local Indianapolis company that has conducted business in Indiana and surrounding states since 1960. Harding Group’s more than 350 experienced craftsmen, degreed engineers and estimators provide customers with one-stop shopping for their paving needs. Pavement Magazine consistently ranks Harding Group’s Asphalt Division in the “Top Ten” of asphalt paving companies in the United States. Over the course of their 50-year history, Harding Group has evolved from a single company to a diverse set of companies including Harding Transport, Harding Materials Inc., Harding Logistics and Harding Snow & Salt.

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

Follow@KyleMLavigne