IndyCar: Can Andretti Autosport bounce back?

Source: NBC Sports

Heading into the third race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, Andretti Autosport is looking to bounce back at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama after their weekend at Long Beach went from excellent to disastrous with all four cars retiring from the race.

In qualifying, the Andretti cars showed real pace. All except Takuma Sato advanced to the second round of the qualifying session to fight for a place in the Fast Six. Marco Andretti did not advance to the Fast Six round but was able to round up in the top 10. His teammates Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay jumped to the final round of the session with Hunter-Reay qualifying third and Rossi fifth. This was Rossi’s best career start in his second IndyCar season.

On race day, unfortunately Andretti Autosport’s promising weekend turned sour. Andretti gained two spots to eighth after starting tenth, but after he made his first scheduled pit stop on Lap 14, Andretti locked up his tyres and sent his car off track in Turn 5.

Shortly after, Andretti radioed to his pit crew that he may have been experiencing a mechanical issue. He stayed out on track whilst his engineers tried to find what the problem was but was losing pace. Two laps later, he parked his car in the Turn 8 runoff area and retired from the race.

Rossi started on the front row and was having an incredible race. He ran inside the top 5 for most of the day on a two-stop strategy along with his teammate Hunter-Reay and Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver, James Hinchcliffe. These were the three fastest drivers with Scott Dixon, Sebastian Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden lapping slower on a three-stop strategy.

On the second round of pit stops, Dixon came in on Lap 41, handing the lead to Hunter-Reay, placing Hinchcliffe in second and Rossi into third to create a three-car battle for the lead. On Lap 57, both Hunter-Reay and Rossi came in for their second and final pit stop whilst Hinchcliffe stayed out an extra lap to take the lead.

Unfortunately for Rossi, his race ended prematurely on Lap 63 when his car came to a halt with a mechanical problem on the long main straight before Turn 1. He was having one of the best street course races of his career and even had the car to compete for the win. However he would finish nineteenth having only completing 62 laps.

Takuma Sato for the most part had a quiet race running outside of the top 10. Until of course, Sato became the third Andretti driver to have a mechanical issue and to retire from the race. Ultimately placing him in eighteenth position.

The biggest story was Ryan Hunter-Reay who despite closing the gap on race leader, James Hinchcliffe, slowed down coming off Turn 3, coming to a complete stop with only six laps to go. Hunter-Reay had led twenty-eight laps in total and was going for his second win at Long Beach but sadly for the team, he was the last Andretti driver to retire with a mechanical problem. Speaking after the race, Hunter-Reay said that it was the same issue he suffered in last year’s Pocono race.

Aside from a miserable race for Andretti Autosport, all four of the drivers were topping timesheets throughout the weekend which was must be a positive for them to take from Long Beath. Last season, the Andretti cars were lacking speed on road/street courses due to Chevrolet having the more competitive aero package over Honda.

However, it’s a different story this season with Honda teams dominating the first two races, so don’t count the Andretti cars out yet for the upcoming Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is a two-time winner at Birmingham with three top 5’s and three top 10 finishes whilst Marco Andretti has two top 5’s and five top 10 finishes in the last six Birmingham races. Expect all the Andretti Autosport cars to be fighting hard for better results this Sunday.