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IndyCar: Pato O’Ward parts ways with Harding Steinbrenner 27 days before season opener

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IndyCar’s annual media day on Monday began with major news when  it was learned that promising rookie driver Patricio “Pato” O’Ward has parted ways with Harding Steinbrenner Racing, effective immediately.

O’Ward, who won the 2018 Indy Lights championship, was expected to be part of a two-car team at HSR with fellow rookie Colton Herta, who finished second to O’Ward in the Indy Lights battle last season.

But instead, O’Ward is now looking for a new full-time ride for the entire IndyCar season just 27 days before the March 10 season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Florida. He will retain the $1 million scholarship he won for winning the Indy Lights championship, which could go a long way towards putting him in a ride with another team.

“The Harding Steinbrenner Racing team supported my decision to seek a new opportunity by releasing me from my contract and allowing me the opportunity to find a new team before the start of the 2019 season,” O’Ward said in a media release. “Now, I am fully focused on finding the right opportunity and how I will use my scholarship from Indy Lights for 2019.”

A Harding Steinbrenner Racing official said the team will not be issuing a statement on O’Ward’s departure. NBC Sports has a call in to team president Brian Barnhart, but has not heard back from him.

The circumstances regarding O’Ward’s departure from HSR are not exactly clear.

One media report indicated that Honda would only provide the team with one motor for the entire season, and a second motor for just the Indianapolis 500.

However, a Honda official told NBC Sports Monday afternoon “it was Honda’s intention to supply Harding Steinbrenner Racing two motors for the entire IndyCar season, one for Pato and one for Colton Herta. (HSR) just notified us Sunday night that they were concluding their relationship with Pato.”

Another media report indicated that HSR was having financial struggles in fielding two full-time cars.

HSR last season only fielded one full-time ride. Gabby Chaves drove in 13 of the season’s 17 races for the team, while Conor Daly drove the No. 88 in three races.

HSR then fielded O’Ward and Herta in the season-ending race at Sonoma Raceway, with assistance from Andretti Autosport.

Herta will remain with HSR for the 2019 IndyCar season.

O’Ward issued the statement at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, where the series will race at for the first time in its history next month. The series will hold a two-day test at COTA tomorrow and Wednesday.

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Hildebrand enters Indy 500 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

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INDIANAPOLIS — J.R. Hildebrand will race in the Indianapolis 500 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in a second entry dedicated to the late Dan Gurney.

Hildebrand will pilot the No. 48 as a nod to the number used by Gurney, a racer, car builder and team owner who died in 2018. Hildebrand will be teammates with Sage Karam and his car will be sponsored by Salesforce.com.

Hildebrand has eight previous Indy 500 starts and was leading on the final lap as a rookie in 2011 when he crashed in the final turn. Dan Wheldon slipped past for the victory and Hildebrand finished second.

Hildebrand also drove for DRR last season.

DRR is also fielding the #24 Chevrolet in this year’s Indy 500 for Sage Karam.