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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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Adam Cianciarulo serves notice with Monster Energy Cup win

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In his debut on a 450 Kawasaki, Adam Cianciarulo held off teammate Eli Tomac in a hotly contested final Main to win the Monster Energy Cup at Sam Boyd Stadium: One race; one win.

“My first thought was, ‘what I life I get to live,’ ” Cianciarulo told NBCSN after the race. “That whole race I knew (Eli) was behind me. We had a gap and I knew it was going to come down to the Joker Lane.”

For Cianciarulo, it was all about managing pressure. He earned the holeshot in the first and final Mains. In the first race, he lost his bike and the lead under the bridge. In the final Main, he withstood a fierce charge for 10 laps from one of the best riders ever in Supercross.

Tomac stalked Cianciarulo for eight laps. At one point, he made the pass, but Cianciarulo expertly executed a crossover move and retook the point in the same corner. Tomac knew he was going to have to change things up if he wanted to make a pass for the lead and the overall win.

“Going into the Joker, I couldn’t really ever make the pass stick, so I thought let me get in this thing a lap early and see if I can make the speed up on the track,” Tomac said after the race.

He had a reason to believe it would turn out in his favor because he used the tactic in the second Main and made up four spots on the track – advancing from seventh to fourth.

“Just the opportunity to race with Eli,” Cianciarulo continued from Victory Lane. “You know, he’s accomplished so much and just to be out there on the track with him. I’m just stoked to be out there with him.”

Cianciarulo would have been forgiven if he thought Las Vegas owed him something. Entering the Supercross season finale this year, he only needed a clean finish to win the 250 West championship. He crashed and handed the win over to Dylan Ferrandis, but instead of allowing that to frustrate him, Cianciarulo used it as motivation.

“(Winning this race) is a little bit of redemption, but to be honest with you I look at (the accident in) Vegas now after winning the outdoor motocross championship as something that helped me get there,” Cianciarulo said. “It’s helped me grow.”

With his overall win, Cianciarulo pocketed a $100,000 check. The payday could have been $1 million if any rider had been able to win all three Mains. Instead, three Mains featured three different riders. Tomac won the first Main, Malcolm Stewart the second, and Cianciarulo the third.

Tomac stormed to the lead in the first Main and was slicing through the field in Main 2 before he flipped his bike on a bad landing. He fell from challenging for the lead to 10th. Ten laps does not allow a lot of time to make up for a mistake, but Tomac was able to make up significant time by taking the Joker Lane one lap before Cianciarulo and Stewart.

Malcolm Stewart finished third in his return to Supercross racing. SupercrossLive.com

Stewart would win the second Main, completing a comeback nine months in the making. Early in the Supercross season, he crashed hard in Phoenix and broke his femur.

“I’ve been waiting nine months for all this; I’m just having fun out there.” Stewart said at the end of Main 2. “We’ve got another race to go and hopefully we’re on the top step, but if not, we’re already making dreams come true. I’ve already marked things off my checklist. It was just to win a Main Event.”

Entering the final Main Cianciarulo, Tomac, and Stewart were in a dead heat in regard to points. Cianciarulo finished second in the first two Mains, Tomac had a 1-3 with Stewart at a 3-1. The battle would be a “winner takes all” scenario.

How they finished in the final Main determined the overall result with Stewart finishing third in the race and overall standings.

Vince Friese had the ride of his life. With a 4-5-5, he finished fourth.

Friese was also trying to erase an injury-plagued season.

“I had a good (2019) season going,” Friese said. “I don’t think I got to show everything I had. It was frustrating getting hurt just a few races in and five months off the motorcycle is not fun, so I was hungry tonight.”

The World Champion Tim Gajser scored a 7-4-4 and rounded out the top five.

Dean Wilson crashed hard in the last lap of practice. He was transported to the hospital with a leg injury.

Evan Ferry won the Supermini division on the strength of winning both Mains. Gavin Towers and Myles Gilmore rounded out the top three.

In 250 Futures, Jett Lawrence won both Mains and the overall. Jalek Swoll and Brock Papi rounded out the top three.

Main 1 Results
Main 2 Results
Main 3 Results
Overall Results

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