Peeling Pato O’Ward’s name from the No. 8 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda was the easiest part of the surprising pre-season split between driver and team. It’s in the rest of the clean-up work, which is rarely seen, where the more complicated moments are found.
As part of Harding Racing’s big plans for 2019, the one-car, Chevy-powered team expanded to two entries for O’Ward and Colton Herta under the new ‘Harding Steinbrenner’ banner. To complete the ambitious overhaul, the HSR squad parted ways with Chevy and signed a new engine supply deal with Honda Performance Development, necessitating a thorough revamp of its Dallara DW12s.
Although questions were raised about HSR’s funding in late November, the team went forward and announced it had signed a contract for two Honda powerplants in early December. At approximately $1.1 million per engine lease, the expected transfer of more than $2 million to HPD for those leases resulted in the hiring of new technical support staff to look after the Herta and O’Ward entries.
It’s believed terms of the agreement were subject to changes almost immediately. At some point in December, weeks after the two-car announcement was made, a request by HSR to alter the lease intended for O’Ward’s car was received, calling for a reduction to a handful of races that included the Indy 500. By early January, a request for a further reduction — down to an Indy-only supply — is said to have taken place, which could align with the timeline of O’Ward’s pursuit of a release from HSR.
Having committed to supply the team with two engine leases and invested in new personnel as a direct result of the agreement, HPD president Art St. Cyr shared his thoughts on how American Honda’s racing arm has dealt with the changes.
“Reacting to change is really what we do,” he told RACER. “These things happen though, so it’s unfortunate, but it does cause a little bit of trickle-down for us. It’s not free. Of course, we have an engineer that runs every car. So, whenever we add a car, we have to add an engineer to be able to run it.”
Although the team will not cover the annual salary for the second HSR Honda engine technician hired by HPD, St. Cyr (pictured at right with Michael Andretti) says the California-based company will honor its employment commitment.
“The one thing about racing is there’s always work to be done,” he added. “It’s unfortunate, and if we didn’t expect to have a [second] car we wouldn’t have that person, but now that we have that person, we’ll be doing some cross training and there are other functions that they can do. We don’t just let them go.”
Despite having the ability to make it available, the unused O’Ward engine lease will not be provisioned to another full-time NTT IndyCar Series entry this season.
“You’ve got to go back a little bit as to why we made a strategic decision to add Harding Steinbrenner Racing,” St. Cyr said. “They wanted to make themselves a development group so you can bring young people in, get them used to the paddock; a little less pressure than if you’re driving for a Penske, Ganassi or Andretti, and create new talent. So that worked out well strategically and aligns with what we are trying to do in F3 and F4, but tactically, we’re not looking to add another engine lease. Obviously, we have Colton driving for us which is a good thing, but this was a special consideration due to the team’s premise.
“The build capacity at HPD has also been maxed out; we were working weekends last year to create the engine for it, and now that engine obviously doesn’t have a car. We had to go to IndyCar and get the engine unassigned from that lease, so it just goes back into our pool.”