Michael Andretti and Mike Harding are discussing an arrangement that could see Harding Racing run one or more cars next season on behalf of Andretti Autosport.
Positioned as an Andretti ‘Junior’ program that would bring the two friends together in a new business venture, the Brian Barnhart-led Harding outfit could be expanded and reconfigured to field a variety of drivers in partnership with Andretti.
Reached by RACER on Monday, the Andretti team confirmed the talks, and on Harding’s end, Barnhart declined to go into specifics about conversations taking place.
“The old silly season always starts at this time of the year and everyone’s looking for the puzzle pieces to put together, and certainly we’re no different,” he said. “We’re looking for the budget and the right combinations to take Harding Racing to the next step. First, it’s a huge step to join the series, and then to be the only one-car team on a full-time basis is another challenge I think some people forget about. So, we’re trying to improve our position and to do that, you need the right budget and the right pieces.”
Andretti Autosport’s desire to grow the team beyond its current roster of four entries could serve multiple purposes.
Among the various scenarios that have been floated, the Andretti Junior Team concept would allow Andretti Autosport to make space within its primary team to accommodate one or more McLaren Racing drivers if and when a deal is completed.
Of Andretti’s four full-time drivers, Mid-Ohio winner Alexander Rossi, 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, and rookie Zach Veach have been publicly confirmed with multi-year contracts. And while Marco Andretti, the team’s most tenured driver, has received interest from one other IndyCar outfit, he is expected to return to his father’s program with a new extension.
With McLaren in the picture, the Harding alliance could be used to house at least one of Andretti’s current full-timers to make space for Fernando Alonso or Scott Dixon, should the latter be tempted away from Chip Ganassi Racing.
And if a deal with McLaren falls through or is deferred until 2020 at the earliest, Andretti would have the ability to keep its four main entries intact and have space under Harding’s tent to run its Indy Lights championship leader Pato O’Ward, his teammate Colton Herta, who’s due to test for Harding on Friday in Portland, Harding’s Gabby Chaves or Conor Daly, and any others that might fit the Junior Team bill.
The Harding team has also stated an interest in expanding to two cars of its own which, with the Andretti angle in mind, could see unparalleled year-to-year growth take place.