Steinbrenner continues winning family legacy, but in different sport

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MONTEREY, California – There is something in the Steinbrenner family DNA that knows how to win.

From the late George Steinbrenner’s leadership of the New York Yankees that restored the franchise to World Series championships, through the current ownership of his sons Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, winning is expected.

On Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, there was another generation of the Steinbrenner family holding a trophy. It was 22-year-old George Michael Steinbrenner, IV.

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo

He was holding the winning trophy for his NTT IndyCar Series team’s victory in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. His 19-year-old driver, Colton Herta, had just completed an impressive victory where he led 83 of the 90 laps in the race to complete a rookie season that included three poles and two wins.

There are more trophies in Steinbrenner’s future.

“Borg-Warner Trophy, Astor Cup (season championship) one of those, that would be nice,” Steinbrenner told NBC Sports.com in Victory Lane, referring to the trophies that go to the Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion.

Even a family that thrives on success admitted the 2019 accomplishments exceeded expectations.

“No, I did not expect two wins this season,” Steinbrenner said. “It was a crazy season. A lot of ups. A lot of downs. We had speed all year and this race was the first one all year that was a complete race for the whole team.

“We had speed all year. This race was the first one that was a complete race for the whole team. Colton drove not only with the best of them, but he drove like a complete veteran. He took care of his tires. Stayed out in front and the crew kept us out in front of that pack behind us. At a place like this, if you leave the pit cycle in first, odds are you are going to go back in, in first.”

When Herta became the youngest winner in IndyCar history with his win on March 24 at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in the INDYCAR Classic, it was actually Will Power that dominated that race. Once the caution flag came out and Power had yet to pit while every other driver had already made their final stop, he was shuffled to mid-pack.

Herta benefited that day, but was brilliant in keeping his Honda-powered car up front and across the checkered flag, just 10 days before his 19thbirthday.

This weekend was different.

He won his third pole and drove away from the field. In the end, he held off three of the best drivers of this era including 2014 IndyCar Series champion Will Power by 0.5878, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon by 6.240 and 2016 IndyCar Series champion and this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud by 6.3545.

“He drove a veteran race today,” Steinbrenner said. “It was best drive of his career so far. To have that and the last race of the year at a place like this that means a lot to his family is a big deal.”

It’s also a big deal to the Steinbrenner family, as his father Hank and uncle Hal are guiding the Yankees into the American League Playoffs in Major League Baseball.

“Next up is the World Series. That would be nice. We could get another trophy.”

This wasn’t an easy season, however, for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. In fact, the team was lucky to make it to the end of the season after having sponsorship difficulties leave the team without expected funding.

“It’s been a roller-coaster, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of curveballs,” Steinbrenner said. “Overall, three pole positions and two wins. We might not have gotten rookie of the year, but I wouldn’t trade our season for anything.

“Ending on a note like this on a drive like that, the car performing the way it did and the crew and driver performing the way we did, it’s the perfect way to go into the offseason.”

On Saturday, it was officially announced that Harding Steinbrenner Racing will join Andretti Autosport as a fifth entry. That will put the team on solid ground, creating an even stronger foundation and a chance to challenge for more victories and a championship.

Herta represents INDYCAR’s future in terms of driving talent. Steinbrenner’s success represents INDYCAR’s future in terms of developing and creating new team owners.

At the end of the race as Steinbrenner stood in the back of a room, championship team owner Roger Penske walked in after his driver, Josef Newgarden, had delivered the 16thIndyCar championship of team Penske’s career. Penske warmly greeted young Steinbrenner and was reminded of the connection between the two families.

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo

The Steinbrenner Family, dating back to George Steinbrenner, attended the prestigious Culver Military Academy in Northern Indiana. Hank Steinbrenner was born in Culver, Indiana and young Steinbrenner is part of the deep connection of CMA, although he never attended the Academy as a cadet.

Roger Penske also was a cadet at Culver Military Academy as a youngster and learned the discipline and organization that has made him successful in auto racing and as a business and industrial leader.

“Well, George Steinbrenner wasfrom Cleveland where I’m from, so we have that in common, and I knew George Sr.,” Penske told NBC Sports.com. “And to have a Steinbrenner in motorsports is terrific.

“It’s like Ganassi, it’s like Andretti, all these people, Rahal, on and on and on. To see what they’ve put together, a small team, and the quality and the capability of Colton Herta is amazing. You could see him today, he ran a perfect race, stops were good, we were right next to him.

“So, I think they’ve got great momentum, and you’re going to hear a lot about them in the future, and I think we need more owners and ones who understand how to win and want to win.”

Penske is part of IndyCar’s history. Steinbrenner is laying claim to IndyCar’s future.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter @BruceMartin_500

Latest INDYCAR Aeroscreen test continues to provide feedback; data to series

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Bruce Martin Photo
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RICHMOND, Virginia – After completing its third Aeroscreen test since October 2, INDYCAR continues to collect valuable data and feedback from the drivers and engineers involved in testing.

The latest test of the Aeroscreen came Tuesday, October 15 at Richmond Raceway, a .750-mile short oval. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has been involved in testing dating all the way back to 2017 at Phoenix with the original “Windscreen.” Tuesday’s test was the first-time two-time NTT IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was able to test the device that partially encloses the cockpit proving greatly enhanced driver safety.

It was also the first time the current “Aeroscreen” designed and created by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, Pankl and Dallara has been tested at a short oval – a track that measures under 1.5-miles in length.

The previous tests were at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 2 and the Barber Motorsports Park road course on October 7.

“It wasn’t a problem getting in the car today and relearning a new viewpoint,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com at the conclusion of Tuesday’s test. “It felt like a new viewpoint. It’s still an Indy car. It still feels like an Indy car. The car does a lot of the things it did before. It required some slight tuning differences to accommodate a different center of gravity and different total weight.

“Overall, it still felt like the same Indy car I drove three weeks ago. You get used to that new viewpoint within 30 or 40 laps. It was alien at first but halfway through the day it feels like home again.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske test team along with INDYCAR officials worked on changes to getting air into the cockpit and directing the air to the right place where the driver can utilize it.

“We’ve come up with some solutions that we like,” Newgarden said. “INDYCAR and the teams will continue to fine-tune this. That is why we are doing these tests. The main goal was to figure this out and fine-tune this stuff. We have come up with a lot of good solutions to all of the little things we have talked about that we have needed so when Sebastien Bourdais goes to Sebring (on November 5), it will just be another version.

“We are already close. Because they are such small details, it feels like normal racing stuff and we will come up with solutions for that.”

Some drivers who have participated in the Aeroscreen test has said, they almost feel naked without having the halo-like structure with a clear windshield protecting them on the race car.

“Once we got through a whole IndyCar season, if you took it off, it would feel really strange,” Newgarden said. “People adapt so quickly to a change, what the car looks like. Once you give us a couple of races and a full year, it will feel like home and something we are very used to as drivers.

“It is already starting to get that way. People are feeling more comfortable with it. The field of view is almost identical to the way it was before. Your peripheral vision is identical, the way you look out the front of the cars is identical, the way you see the tires is identical.”

Individual driver preference will allow for shading of the sun and that can be accomplished with the visor strips on the helmet and the tear-offs on Aeroscreen.

Drivers will also have a bit of a quieter atmosphere inside the cockpit. The partial enclosure makes it easier to hear his radio communication and the sounds of the engine in the driver’s car. It partially blocks out the sounds of the engines in the other cars and the rush of wind traveling at high speeds that used to buffet in and around the helmet.

“It has changed the noise level slightly inside the cockpit,” Newgarden said. “For me, it wasn’t super dramatic. It’s a slight reduction in wind noise. You’re not getting the wind directly over your head as dramatically as you would before. All that external noise has just been dimmed.

“You can hear the radio a touch better, things like that. But the engine noise is still quite prominent. It’s bolted directly behind us, so you still hear quite a bit of what’s going on in the car and the engine.”

Dixon was in the car at Indianapolis on October 2 and returned on Tuesday. The Barber test on October 7 included this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud, in a Team Penske Chevrolet and Ryan Hunter-Reay in an Andretti Autosport Honda.

“The only differences are the openings on the front wing that creates some more airflow around the legs and body and a different inlet in the screen that was in place today,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “There were helmet cooling options since the Barber test because on the road course, some of the drivers were getting a little hotter.

“This project has been very in-depth. It hit the ground running very smoothly. There are some alternate options they are trying to create, especially on the street courses where we will experience hot condition. On street conditions, your depth perception changes because of how close you are to the walls, but we should get used to that.”

Two weeks ago, Team Penske driver Will Power said it takes a different style to get out of the race car because of the added height of the Aeroscreen.

That hasn’t been a problem for Dixon.

“That’s easy, man,” he said. “Just go through the hole in the top.”