The Mazda powered No. 98 Steinbrenner Racing / Andretti Autosport Indy Lights entry that will be piloted by Colton Herta. (photo - Steve Wittich)

The Mazda powered No. 98 Steinbrenner Racing / Andretti Autosport Indy Lights entry that will be piloted by Colton Herta. (photo – Steve Wittich)

Team Release:

Colton Herta to Pilot No. 98 Andretti Steinbrenner Mazda
INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 15, 2016) – INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 15, 2016) – Two names rich in heritage and synonymous with winning have partnered to bring a successful legacy into the world of American-open wheel racing. Newly launched Steinbrenner Racing will join forces in 2017 with racing veterans Andretti Autosport to field an entry in the open-wheel “AAA series” of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

This venture will be a maiden voyage in open-wheel racing for the Steinbrenner family, whose name became a cornerstone of America’s favorite pastime when George Michael Steinbrenner III purchased the New York Yankees in 1973.

“I have been around Indy car racing for nearly half of my young life as a fan and enthusiast,” said Steinbrenner Racing team principal George Michael Steinbrenner IV. “Andretti Autosport always seemed to have a prestige in how they operate and present themselves that mirrors that of the Yankees. The legacy of the Andretti name and the success and wide reach of the Andretti brand is as impressive as you will find in the world of motor racing.”

“Partnering with a name as iconic as Steinbrenner is really something I’m looking forward to,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “George Michael (Steinbrenner IV) has a great vision for his race team, just as his grandfather had for the Yankees. We are looking forward to having George Michael join us in our Indianapolis office in a very hands-on role with the team. I think together the partnership can continue to grow in motorsport, and it is only fitting that we begin by entering a car into the Mazda Road to Indy [Presented by Cooper Tires] program with Indy Lights.”

Completing the entry will be second-generation racer Colton Herta as he joins the Andretti Steinbrenner team to pilot the No. 98 Mazda for his rookie season of Indy Lights competition.

The 2013 Pacific Formula F1600 Champion is the son of former racer and now team owner Bryan Herta, and holds an impressive resume finishing third overall in the 2015 MSA Formula championship scoring four wins, three pole positions and 12 podiums. The California-native has brought home three wins and four pole-positions in his 2016 EuroFormula Open Campaign and earned one win and three podiums while racing in just two events in the 2016 British Formula 3 Championship.

This season will mark the first that Herta, 16, has raced on U.S. soil since 2014, where he competed in the first step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. At the age of 14, the young American moved his talents to Europe to establish a winning reputation competing in the MSA Formula Certified by FIA, Formula Open and the British Formula 3 Championship.

“I’m very pleased to be coming back to race in the States,” said Herta. “IndyCar is my goal, so competing in Indy Lights this year will bring me one step closer. I know I have a good team behind me in Andretti Steinbrenner Racing and we should be fighting for wins right away.”

“Colton set out at a young age to create his own path in racing, and I’m really pleased to see that path bring him here to Andretti Autosport,” added Andretti. “Through our Indy Lights program, we are dedicated to developing future IndyCar drivers, and Colton has shown that he is both determined and talented enough to reach the Verizon IndyCar Series – We’re excited to be a part of his continued development.”

Herta joins Dalton Kellett (No. 28 K-Line Insulators Mazda), Nico Jamin (No. 27 Synova Mazda) and Ryan Norman (No. 48 Flip Side Mazda) as the fourth and final driver announced to Andretti’s 2017 Indy Lights roster.

Hank Steinbrenner, Colton Herta, George Michael Steinbrenner IV and Michael Andretti announce the partnership of two iconic sporting families (photo - Steve Wittich)

Hank Steinbrenner, Colton Herta, George Michael Steinbrenner IV and Michael Andretti announce the partnership of two iconic sporting families (photo – Steve Wittich)

TSO Ladder Notes from Steve:

  • Herta is the fourth American, fourth Andretti Autosport pilot and seventh over-all confirmed driver for the 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire season, joining: Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport), Shelby Blackstock (Belardi Auto Racing), Nicolas Dapero (Juncos Racing),  Nico Jamin (Andretti Autosport), Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport), and Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing)
  • Herta, who will start the season in St. Petersburg as a 16-year old before turning 17 on March 20, 2017, will be making a second turn on the Mazda Road To Indy presented by Cooper Tire. The second generation driver started 12 of 14 events as a 14-year-old during the 2014 Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda season, and scored top-10 finishes in half of his starts and also had the quickest lap during the second race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
  • The Valencia, California native spent the 2015 and 2016 racing seasons in Europe, making 54 starts in various Formula 4 and Formula 3 series with Carlin. Herta’s impressive European resume includes nine wins, eight poles, 21 podiums, and 14 quickest laps of the race.
  • TSO had the chance to talk to Herta at the Verizon IndyCar Series finale at Sonoma Raceway in September, and at that time he told us he was “50/50” on whether he would stay in Europe for one more year or move back home to continue his career on the American open-wheel ladder. So, what went into his decision process to move back to the U.S.A.? “The goal was always IndyCar, it was never Formula 1 or NASCAR, or anything other than IndyCar,” explained Herta to TSO. “I’ve always loved the racing, and I’ve always wanted to come back, and it just seemed like the right time. I think I proved what I needed to prove in Europe. I’ve learned what I needed to learn, and I think I come back (to the U.S.A.) as a professional driver ready to run for a professional team.
  • Today’s announcement certainly proves that a love of competition and sports often runs in a families blood. Colton Herta is a second generation driver, while the Andretti family has three generations involved in the sport, and now George Michael Steinbrenner IV follows in his grandfather’s footsteps by taking an ownership role with a team. “It’s such an iconic name, and to have them be a part of the Andretti family is not only good for our team, but also good for IndyCar racing in general,” explained Michael Andretti to TSO. “When was the last times that Indy Lights was mentioned in the New York Times, so that’s what it brings. The Steinbrenners are also really big fans of racing, and they want to learn more about it, and we’re going to help teach George Michael, and hopefully bring this partnership to IndyCar. What’s cool is that the MRTI is a training ground for drivers, engineers, mechanics, AND team owners.
  • The 20-year-old George Michael told TSO the story of how he became interested in racing and it’s an engaging story, but also a story that proves just how connected the racing world really is. We’ll try to keep it straight, as well as short by utilizing bullet points.

    • George Michael’s father Hank Steinbrenner lists Mario Andretti, Jim Clarke, and Don Prudhomme as his heroes. 
    • George Michael’s mother was a cousin of Indy Lights and IndyCar driver Tony Renna.
    • Through Tony Renna, George Michael struck up a friendship with Renna’s Matco Raceworks teammate Chris Simmons, who George Michael uses as a racing resource to this day. (Sidebar – Matco Raceworks was owned by Matthew Cohen, who like George Michael, was in his 20’s when he started his racing team.)
    • The deal between the two iconic sporting families was orchestrated by Sean Jones. Jones, the son of Chuck Jones, a California hot-rodder turned Formula 1 principal with Ensign Racing, is not only George Michael’s stepfather but also a long-time friend and business partner of Bryan Herta.
    • Phew — do you have that all straight? It becomes pretty obvious when talking with George Michael, that his passion for American open-wheel racing runs deep. 
  • The addition of young blood within the team owner ranks is certainly something that both the Mazda Road To Indy presented by Cooper Tire and the Verizon IndyCar Series can benefit from, and hopefully, this is the start of a winning partnership. 
  • You can follow Herta on the following social media platforms: Twitter – Instagram – Facebook