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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
2 Comments

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”