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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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Five things to watch for in Bommarito Auto Group 500 at Gateway

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There have been five different winners in the last five weeks of the NTT IndyCar season and driver that kicked off that streak in Elkhart Lake is in desperate need of a victory to help close the points gap to the leader. After being involved in the Lap 1 accident at Pocono Raceway last week, Alexander Rossi sits 35 points behind Josef Newgarden. Rossi’s two victories this season have come on road courses.

This week’s Bommarito Auto Group 500 the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway is the third race on this track since IndyCar first revisited it in 2017. Newgarden took the checkers in 2017; Will Power grabbed the glory last year. Gateway also hosted races from 2001-2003.

Here are some of the storylines to watch this Sunday:

  1. For most of the drivers in the field, this will mark only their third time to race at Gateway, but two drivers were around in 2003 when IndyCar visited this track previously. Scott Dixon finished 15th in that race. He found the handle when Indy returned in 2017 to finish second and then third last year. Tony Kanaan was second in 2003; unfortunately he went the other direction and has not scored a top-10 at Gateway since.
  2. If one is looking for perfection on this track type, Simon Pagenaud is the only driver to sweep the top 10 on ovals in the past two years. In his last 10 starts on them, he has garnered an average finish of 5.2; his last five attempts have been sixth or better including a win in this year’s Indy 500. Pagenaud finished third at Gateway in 2017 and was fourth last year.
  3. The top two drivers in the points standings should also challenge for a top-five this week. Rossi was perfect alongside Pagenaud on ovals until his accident last week at Pocono with a sweep of the top 10 and seven top-fives in his last nine races. Newgarden also has nine top-10s and a worst of 13th on ovals in the past two years.
  4. Don’t count Dixon out of the points battle yet. While he currently sits 52 points out of first, Dixon is the hottest driver on the circuit with a current streak of five top-fives to his credit including his victory at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago. His oval record is a little spottier with two runner-up finishes and two 17th-place finishes in the last four races.
  5. Last week’s first-lap carnage ended Rossi’s top-10 streak at seven, but one other driver was able to sneak through and extend his. Graham Rahal will vie for his ninth consecutive top-10 this week, but that success is questionable in light of his Gateway record. Rahal finished 12th in 2017 and was barely able to crack the top 10 in 10th last year.

See More: IndyCar championship contenders seeing fortunes rise and drop

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