Brian Barnhart leaves INDYCAR to become Harding Racing president

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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.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.