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

Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”