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

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

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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Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship

Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”