INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens

Sam Schmidt confirms interest in Colton Herta, McLaren

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STEAM CORNERS, Ohio – Sam Schmidt has confirmed to NBC Sports.com that he has interest in 19-year-old driver Colton Herta joining his Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Schmidt also revealed he has spoken to Zak Brown of McLaren about joining forces for a full-time IndyCar Series team in the future, but he would have to become a Chevrolet team for that to happen.

Now that Alexander Rossi has made his decision to stay with Andretti Autosport for at least the next three seasons, plus an option year, the focus shifts to Herta, who is in his first season with Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

“We are very interested in Colton Herta,” Schmidt told NBCSports.com. “He is a very talented, young driver.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens“I’ve heard that they (Harding Steinbrenner Racing) have an option as well as Michael Andretti. Now that the Alexander Rossi contract has been announced, who knows where that goes.

“Right now, we have another year on James Hinchcliffe’s contract. Marcus Ericsson has said numerous times he wants to come back to our team. Right now, we are vetting that out fully to see where that stands for now, because we aren’t running more than two cars next year.

“Right now, from what I’ve heard they have options on Colton and Mike Harding is going to do everything he can to keep him in the seat. There is lots of speculation there.”

The interest in Herta is increasing because Harding Steinbrenner Racing is underfunded. Team president Brian Barnhart told NBCSports.com at Iowa that the team needs to find either an additional sponsor or an additional team owner to invest in the Honda-powered team.

Team owner Michael Andretti is also involved because he owns part of Herta’s contract and uses Harding Steinbrenner Racing as a partnership team in IndyCar. That team has an engineering alliance with Andretti Technologies, and many of Herta’s crewmembers came from Andretti Autosport.

“I have some control of Colton’s contract,” Andretti told NBCSports.com. “It’s complicated, put it that way. If it stays in the family, I have control. If things fall apart, then everybody loses control. The goal is to keep it all going somehow. Unfortunately, the sponsorship they had is not coming through, and that is putting a lot of pressure on Mike Harding.

“We’re trying to help them. I consider them friends – the Hardings and the Steinbrenners. We have to figure out how to help our friends, and that is what we are trying to do to keep him in our family.

“Obviously, we want to figure out how to keep him in our family. We want Colton to remain in our family. I was really happy we were able to do what we did. The goal is to keep it going. We’ve been watching and focusing on it to see if we can help. We will continue to work with Mike and the Steinbrenner’s to figure out what we can do in the future.”

Team Penske president Tim Cindric told NBCSports.com that Alexander Rossi’s agent and father, Pieter, had approached the team earlier this season to see if it had interest in the 27-year-old driver.

“We told him to reconnect with us after May,” Cindric told NBCSports.com. “When we told them, it would be in a fourth car, they weren’t interested in being part of four cars.”

But does Team Penske have an interest in signing Herta?

“We’re not running four cars,” Cindric said. “That’s the end of that discussion.”

Andretti believes there are many teams in the IndyCar paddock that have interest in youngest driver ever to win an NTT IndyCar Series race when he won at Circuit of the Americas on March 24.

“You have a lot of others interested in him like Sam Schmidt and Ed Carpenter,” Andretti said. “I’ve even heard a few F1 teams are interested in him. There is a lot of interest because the kid is really good. That is great.

“But it’s our job to keep him in the family.”

Schmidt’s team was also interested in Rossi but realized if the money he had to offer was close to what Andretti could spend, he would stay with Andretti.

“Any driver that has a great situation with his engineer and his team, if they could get close on the money, I’m sure he would have rather stayed there than upset the apple cart,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt also spoke about McLaren’s interest in partnering with his team, which would once again be complicated because Arrow Schmidt Peterson is a Honda team, and Honda Japan does not want to do any future business with McLaren after an acrimonious split with McLaren F1 in 2017.

“Again, we have another year on our contract with Honda,” Schmidt said. “The company has stated perfectly clear they can’t be associated with (McLaren CEO) Zak Brown or McLaren, so I think that alienates us from that program.”

Andretti was offered a lucrative proposal by Brown to have McLaren join forces with Andretti Autosport and was about to switch from Honda to Chevrolet. But first-year Honda Performance Development president Ted Klaus convinced Andretti to stay with Honda, which in turn allowed Andretti to re-sign Rossi.

Honda plans on making Rossi its lead test driver when IndyCar goes to the 2.4-liter engine formula in 2021.

“We had to look at all of that, including McLaren,” Andretti said. “It’s going to suck if I see McLaren out there with another team because we worked so hard to make that happen. Zak and I are really close and wanted to make it work. We are partners in Australia. It will be really awkward if he makes it work somewhere else.

“I think a lot still has to happen for McLaren to come over, but they are not quitters. What happened at Indianapolis in May is going to make them more determined than ever. That is their mentality.

“Unfortunately, it won’t happen with us because they can’t work together with Honda. That means they would have to come in with a Chevy team.”

Young Herta has done a tremendous job isolating himself from the rumors and speculation and getting on with his rookie season in the NTT IndyCar Series. He is currently 14th in the standings with four races remaining this season. He is coming off an eighth-place finish in last Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

“It’s always nice that there are people interested in me,” Herta told NBCSports.com “If something bad happens, there is potential for somebody else to give me a ride, which is nice. But I’m pretty happy where I’m at, at the moment.

“As long as you have a good car, you don’t think about that. I’ve had a good car most of the time.

“It gives confidence, not only for the actual race team but the marketing and PR department. All these other teams are fully funded, and we are running up front with them. Thanks to NBC, we have gotten great exposure at all of the races. PT (Paul Tracy) and Townsend Bell and Leigh Diffey and the broadcast group have done a tremendous job covering us. They have told me firsthand about that and that’s nice.

“Mike Harding and George Michael Steinbrenner, IV both made an investment in the team early on, so it didn’t really affect us. Luckily, we had Capstone Turbine jump on board as a co-primary and then as a primary the past two weekends is nice. Hopefully, they can keep going with us.”

Inside IndyCar’s iRacing revolution: Oliver Askew, team take it seriously

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No laps have been turned in the NTT IndyCar Series this season, yet rookie Oliver Askew incessantly is analyzing fresh lap data with his Arrow McLaren SP team.

For the past two weeks, Askew has turned hundreds of laps in iRacing at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park, and his support team meticulously has scoured the data in real time.

Race engineer Blair Perschbacher, assistant engineer Mike Reggio and strategist Billy Vincent are connected via all the software and timing systems that are on Askew’s real-world No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. After every run, numbers instantly are crunched, and Askew debriefs with his crew on improving the handling of his car in search of every fraction of a second as he would in real life.

WATCH: IndyCar iRacing Challenge, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN or streaming here

The only difference is Askew is sitting inside a simulation rig housed by a 45-foot trailer in West Palm Beach, Fla., while each team member is in an Indianapolis area home.

“They basically set up their own timing stands in their living rooms,” Askew told NBCSports.com. “It’s awesome.”

It’s the new reality for IndyCar, which will play host to the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (NBCSN) at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

Last Saturday, Askew started and finished fifth at Watkins Glen International, where he practiced with the advisement of his team for more than 15 hours in the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs simulator. Despite a relative sim racing newbie, Askew, 23, finished only two spots behind Will Power, who has more than 1,500 starts and 150 victories on iRacing road courses.

Askew already has practiced for more than 10 hours this week in his simulator for Barber, where he hopes to make the podium against a 29-driver field that will include many champions and winners.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “You can tell by the results at Watkins Glen. You know which drivers have built their sims properly. How much they’ve been practicing. Those are the guys who finish up front.

“I’m still trying to represent everyone. It’s cool we have the same paint scheme. We’re just trying to represent Arrow and our partners the best as possible. We know they’re all watching, and it seems the viewership is going up.”


The Jupiter, Florida, native has found an edge through his friendship with SimMetric Driver Performance Labs, which is based in nearby West Palm Beach, Florida. Askew and SimMetric CEO Greg De Giorgis met last year through mutual friends. Last year, Askew had done a few simulator sessions before winning the 2019 Indy Lights championship (and graduating to the ride with Arrow McLaren SP).

With an official simulator partnership in the Road to Indy program, SimMetric’s simulator travels in a trailer to racing events around the country, providing drivers with extra preparation time for the real world.

“While time in a driving simulator will never fully replace real seat time, sim seat time can go a very long way in supplementing the seat time a driver gets,” De Giorgis told NBCSports.com in an email. “With three added benefits you don’t get in the real car: Significantly lower cost per hour, no risk of bodily harm or damage to the car, and of course, no limitations on time.”

There are some limitations for how much Askew can practice, though. A schedule was set up last week so the team, Askew and De Giorgis (who helps run the simulator and maintain communications with the team) could work together while also maintaining self-isolation with their families.

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The trailer with the simulator is parked indoors at the Riviera Beach, Florida, shop of Extreme Velocity Motorsports, which also has an unofficial affiliation with SimMetric.

“We’re practicing social distancing and making sure the trailer and everything is clean,” Askew said. “We’re taking that very seriously. It’s still a job for me, so I need to get what I can out of it.”

He’s gotten a lot from it despite a lack of experience. The team can compare simulation data from iRacing to real-world historical data from past races and test sessions.

Reggio handles fuel data, and Simpson monitors strategy and timing. While setups are fixed for the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, Perschbacher is able to work with brake bias. “He’s just trying to bend the rules as much as we can,” Askew said. “We’ve done a lot with brake bias. That’s pretty much all we can change.”

Fans also can watch Askew practicing via a YouTube channel provided by De Giorgis, who has chatted with viewers about the car’s laps in real time during the streams that are available by clicking here.

Fans will be able to find a live stream of Askew’s race Saturday by clicking here.


It’s all relatively new to Askew, who doesn’t even have a sim rig at his Indianapolis home. His previous sim experience mainly came on the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina.

“Honesty, for me personally, I’m a little late to the party,” Askew said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I’m young and they assumed I’ve been doing this. I’ve never even had my own iRacing account before. Guys like (McLaren driver) Lando Norris, (Watkins Glen winner) Sage (Karam), all these guys have been streaming live on Twitch and have been running iRacing for multiple years now.

“ It’s a great way to get fans engaged in the race weekend and get eSports get bigger and bigger every year. Very interesting moving forward. It’s cool that IndyCar has dipped their feet into these waters now. Even once the season starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do more of these races.”

If so, he and his team have learned to keep an eye on Power, a real-world ace on road courses. During some practice races Thursday, Askew thought he’d done well by qualifying third, but Power then put a half-second on the field by winning the pole position.

“Will is unbelievably quick and does the same things in real life as well,” said Askew, who did turn the fastest lap in the practice race. “He just pulls it out somehow. That’s where the engineers and our staff in Indy come into play because they’re able to watch his on-board in real time and replay his on board to figure out what he’s doing to get the most of out of his car in the video game.

“It gets the creative juices flowing again. It’s still very different from real life, but I think we’re going to be able to start the season a little more fresh than we would have without this.”

Chris Graythen / Getty Images