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Owner Steinbrenner Adds To Family’s Winning Legacy in Different Arena

Note: This continues a series of feature stories focused on competitors in the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and GMR Grand Prix this May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stories will appear at IMS.com on Tuesdays and Thursdays through May.

When your last name is Steinbrenner, winning isn’t a hope. It’s an expectation.

That’s why initially it was tricky for George Steinbrenner IV to explain to potential sponsors and executives within the New York Yankees in 2018 that he was promoting his race team and driver Colton Herta to compete in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, after two years in Indy Lights in a partnership with Andretti Autosport.

Herta finished second in the Indy Lights standings in 2018 to Pato O’Ward. But Steinbrenner’s late grandfather, legendary Yankees owner George “The Boss” Steinbrenner, built a culture around the Bronx Bombers that winning was everything. It’s the same mantra the younger Steinbrenner’s father, Hank Steinbrenner, follows today as part-owner and co-chairman of the Yankees.

It was tough enough for George IV to convince skeptics that he could succeed as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES team owner at age 22, making history as the youngest owner in series history. But when Steinbrenner announced the formation of Harding Steinbrenner Racing in September 2018 at Yankee Stadium, more than a few probably wondered why he was moving to the top level of open-wheel racing in North America without a championship.

“Especially in the Yankee world,” Steinbrenner said. “Winning is everything.”

That conversation became much easier after a magical day last March 24 when Herta shocked the field to win the IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas, delivering the upstart team its first victory in just its second career NTT INDYCAR SERIES start. At age 18, Herta became the youngest winner in series history.

Herta ended the season with a second victory, in September at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and three poles.

“Once we won, especially two races, it was much easier to get people interested,” Steinbrenner said.

The two wins by Herta were the culmination of a season in which the fledgling Harding Steinbrenner punched far above its weight while trying to survive financially during the second half of the season. Increased support from Capstone Turbine helped the team stay racing through the season finale.

Herta’s victory at Laguna Seca came a day after it was announced he would drive as essentially a fifth Andretti Autosport car in the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. The Andretti team absorbed much of the Harding Steinbrenner outfit into an entity called Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport.

That new alliance helps alleviate a big burden for Steinbrenner, now 23, and narrows his goals.

“We’re excited,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s nice to be back with the Andretti family. It’s where I learned the ropes for two years with the Indy Lights car. We can only go up from where we were last year, especially with being fully integrated into the Andretti family. I think it’s going to be a good one for us.

“It’s very comforting, knowing right now we won’t have any problem putting this car out for 17 races this year. It shifts your full focus back to making the car as fast as possible instead of worrying if you’re even going to be able to bring the car to the race.”

Herta had no problem with speed as a rookie last year at the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. He qualified a stunning fifth in the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda, the top rookie and the only first-year driver to make the Fast Nine Shootout.

While Herta rocketed toward the top of the speed charts, Steinbrenner was soaking in and savoring every moment of his first Month of May as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES team owner.

“I couldn’t wait all month, even on the practice days, to get to the track early in the morning and sit in the garage,” Steinbrenner said. “I don’t think I missed a second of when our car was out there, and I was out there sometimes even when our car wasn’t. It was just an amazing experience. To actually experience being on the grid in the minutes leading up to the race and the drop of the green flag was a moment I’ll never forget.”

But no one can fault Steinbrenner for wanting to erase the race from his recollections. Herta slowed on track after completing just three laps and was eliminated with a mechanical problem, credited with last place.

Still, Steinbrenner knows that was a rare blip in a sterling season in which Herta finished seventh in series points and fell just five points shy of Rookie of the Year Felix Rosenqvist of the powerful Chip Ganassi Racing team. Harding Steinbrenner’s success was one of the best David vs. Goliath stories in recent series history.

This year will be different. Herta no longer will be the talented rookie whose inexperience in races sometimes dulled the sharp end of his speed, especially with tire management.

This year Herta will be expected to be a championship contender and running near or at the top of the time sheets and finishing order among teammates Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach.

The goal at the start of last year was top-10 results, an aim that was quickly revised after the success at COTA. But make no mistake this season: The goal is to be a championship contender.

Steinbrenner also admits the short Race Day at Indy has created extra motivation to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” possibly along with a series championship in the same season.

“Both would be pretty spectacular,” the soft-spoken Steinbrenner said. “The Indy 500 is the one we all want to win, and I haven’t won one yet, so I think I’ll put Indy 500 first. But whichever one comes first, I won’t complain.”

“The Boss” most certainly would approve of that attitude.

Visit IMS.com or the IMS Ticket Office for tickets to the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, GMR Grand Prix and all other Month of May activities at IMS.

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