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In their first full season of Indy Car competition, Harding Racing, led by owner Mike Harding, former Indy Car Head of Race Control Brian Barnhart & two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr have had a hard time finding their footing in the series, which seems to be the norm for first time teams. The team bursted onto the scene in 2017 by scoring an impressive 9th place finish in the Indy 500, backed up at Texas with a 5th and Pocono with a 15th place finish, all with Gabby Chaves in the cockpit.
The 2018 campaign hasn't shown the results the team has hoped for, with a best finish of 14th at the season opener in St. Pete. Luckily, the team has not had much crash damage with Gabby behind the wheel, as Harding Racing still searches for a full time sponsor of the #88 Chevy.
The team announced today that Conor Daly would take over the ride this weekend in Toronto (Sunday 3pm, FM 107.5 & 1070 The Fan). This will mark Daly's second start of the season and 4th at Toronto, with a best finish north of the border of 12th filling in for James Hinchcliffe in 2015.
The move doesn't come as a total shock in the paddock as the team issued this statement about the move.
“At this point in the season, we are focusing all our attention on the 2019 season,” said Harding Racing team president, Brian Barnhart.
“If we can expand to a two-car team, all remaining races and testing will offer driver evaluation opportunities to determine who will become Gabby’s teammate in 2019. Gabby is still fully employed and still under contract with Harding for the remainder of this year and in 2019.” per Harding Racing's social media account.
With Gabby out this weekend, we could see an audition for the second seat at Harding with multiple drivers over the final six races, with Chaves returning to the #88 full time in 2019.
I feel for Gabby, it is certainly tough to to find footing in Indy Car with a new team, but kudos to the young Columbian for having a team first mind set. I give credit to Mike Harding and the team on what they have built in such a short time. They took over the shop previously occupied by Ed Carpenter Racing on Main Street in Speedway, and hired Brian Barnhart away from Indy Car, and landed Al Unser Jr. to help the driving process. A second car with sponsorship money could very much help this team over the next 2-3 years.
No word on the teams plans driver wise after Toronto, as the series takes a week off before heading to Mid Ohio. Purely speculating, I would imagine J.R. Hildebrand, Carlos Munoz and Stef Wilson would be worth a phone call.
As for Daly, Air Force, his sponsor in the 102nd Indy 500, will not be on the car this weekend in Toronto, which would make sense, but their has to be some hope that the sponsor would back the Noblesville, IN native in another race on American soil. Long time partner VBrick and Luminaire LED will help sponsor Conor this Sunday.