Herta after winning the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. Photo: IndyCar.

Colton Herta to test for Harding Racing at Portland; could IndyCar ride be in cards?

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While the Verizon IndyCar Series is off until August 19, at least one team – and potentially one future driver in the series – will be busy this week.

Colton Herta, currently second in the Indy Lights series standings, will test this Friday in the No. 88 for Harding Racing at Portland International Raceway.

The story was first reported by TrackSideOnline (TSO).

Harding Racing president Brian Barnhart told The Indianapolis Star the team is looking forward to the upcoming test.

“We are happy to be able to provide Colton his first test in IndyCar,” Barnhart said. “After his success in Indy Lights, his next step is a test in an IndyCar. It is also part of what we have been talking about doing the last month or so with driver evaluations.”

There are several unique aspects of this story:

1) Herta is under contract to Andretti Autosport, where his father, former IndyCar driver Bryan Herta, is a minority partner and co-owner.

2) The younger Herta is essentially being loaned to Harding Racing for this test.

3) Harding Racing began the season with Gabby Chaves as the primary driver of its one-car operation. However, Conor Daly has driven the car in the last two races at Toronto and this past weekend at Mid-Ohio. Harding Racing has not announced who will drive in the next IndyCar race, August 19, at Pocono Raceway, nor the final three races of the season at Gateway Motorsports Park, Portland International Raceway and Sonoma Raceway.

4) Harding Racing is reportedly negotiating a possible tie-in with Andretti Autosport for next season. That could take a variety of shapes, including a partnership of sorts with Harding being a potential satellite team for Andretti Autosport.

5) Harding Racing, in its first season in the IndyCar Series, is a one-car operation, but has designs to expand to two cars based upon funding, perhaps as early as 2019.

6) Harding Racing has four races remaining and could see additional drivers earn essentially tryouts in those remaining races. Racer magazine reported that among names rumored include Herta, Indy Lights points leader Pato O’Ward, Sage Karam and Zachary Claman De Melo.

7) Herta’s test at Portland could be a harbinger of potentially making his first career IndyCar start – perhaps in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway. He likely wouldn’t make his debut at Portland (Sept. 1), given he’s in a battle for the Indy Lights championship.

8) Herta drives for Andretti-Steinbrenner in the Indy Lights Series. Team co-owner George Steinbrenner IV told the Indianapolis Star at Mid-Ohio this past weekend that he and Herta were working on a full IndyCar season ride in 2019.

9) That being said, and given the test for Harding Racing this week, Herta and Steinbrenner could become part of Harding if it indeed becomes an Andretti Autosport satellite team.

“When we’ll announce, we’re not sure, but we’re definitely moving fairly quickly in the process of moving to IndyCar,” Steinbrenner told the Indianapolis Star. “I think joining IndyCar in 2019 with Colton Herta is certainly a good possibility.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.