INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

Addition of Herta will round out Andretti Autosport’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series plans

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PORTLAND, Oregon – Team owner Michael Andretti is confident he will complete his plans for a five-car NTT IndyCar Series team for 2020 before the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca on September 22.

The fifth entry will likely include Colton Herta moving over to the big team, while continuing its relationship with team co-owner George Michael Steinbrenner, IV. This year, the 19-year-old Herta and 22-year-old Steinbrenner are members of Harding Steinbrenner Racing with Andretti Technologies proving engineering support.

By moving Herta over to Andretti Autosport, it will stabilize the shaky financial situation Harding Steinbrenner has had to deal with this season. Because of a late start with sponsorship, including one potential sponsor that didn’t come through, team owner Mike Harding has had some financial issues to contend with in 2019.

“If we can pull it off, the plan is to bring Colton over to our team,” Andretti told NBC sports.com Friday morning at Portland International Raceway. “We want to stay with the Steinbrenners no matter what we do.

“I hope to have all of this completed by Laguna Seca.”

Watch Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland on NBC Sports.

Herta has been a major contender in nearly every race this season. He became IndyCar’s youngest ever winner when he won the March 24 INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), just 10 days short of his 19thbirthday.

“When you jell so well with a team like this, it makes it fun to go racing,” Herta said.

 

Herta enters Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland 14thin the standings but has run near the front in nearly every race this season. He led 10 laps in last Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

“We’re getting close and hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to announce it,” Andretti said. “We are working on five cars; it’s not definite yet.

“It’s a ‘possibility’ we will also work a satellite team. That’s a possibility.”

Andretti also admitted to NBC Sports.com, that a satellite alignment with Meyer Shank Racing is another “possibility” and one where the two sides have discussed it.

He also said he is impressed with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie driver Marcus Ericsson of Sweden.

“I rate Ericsson,” Andretti admitted. “I think he is actually not bad. In Formula One, he was with a bad team. He might race in Formula One this weekend (for Alfa Romeo at Spa in Belgium) and that would be interesting to see how he would do.

“I would like to still see him in the series.”

Moving up from a four-car full-time team to five cars, Andretti said, “We’ve got that handled.

“Again, people think I’m spreading myself too thin. I’m adding more infrastructure, that allows us to do more and that makes us stronger,” he continued. “If we can’t do it that way, we won’t do it.”

At the start of the 2015 season, Andretti Autosport was struggling with two full-time teams, a third car that was teetering on the edge and a fourth car that ran a very limited schedule with the late Justin Wilson as the driver.

“It was tough times, we made it through it, and it made us stronger,” Andretti said. “A couple of our sponsors didn’t pay from the year before and I was in deep stuff. A lot of that has to do with the infrastructure we’ve put in along with a great bunch of people.”

Young Steinbrenner, whose father Hank is Vice-Chairman of the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball, admitted to NBC Sports.com that it is “very likely” he will join forces with Andretti Autosport next season.

“Everything is falling into place, but sometimes a block will fall over and things get complicated,” Steinbrenner told NBC Sports.com. “Hopefully, we can get something announced by the end of the season. There is talk of being the fifth car on the big team (Andretti Autosport).

“If it were to be a fifth Andretti car, the pieces are already in place with this team.”

When asked if Mike Harding would remain part of it, Steinbrenner said, “Talk of that is ongoing.

“Personally, I’ve always felt comfortable with the relationships I’ve had to make in the last three years. Remaining with Honda is one of the priorities. It’s a business, but it’s a serious goal of mine to stay with Honda.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”