“French Connection” earn Top 10 runs at Barber

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Simon Pagenaud and rookie Tristan Vautier (pictured) made up for a rough start to the IndyCar season at St. Petersburg with Top-10 efforts yesterday at Barber Motorsports Park.

Pagenaud qualified 13th and quietly worked his way up to sixth place at the finish after going on an alternate pit strategy (he first pitted early on Lap 18), while Vautier (who qualified third) ran as high as second in the race’s early stages before fading back to tenth. Both drivers were knocked out by exhaust issues in the season-opening race at St. Pete two weeks ago.

“Today was a good day, and sometimes a sixth place can feel like a win,” Pagenaud said. “We had a great race car that was consistent and fast. Coming from 13th to sixth was great and we were able to fight with the main guys. I’m pretty happy with the result today because it’s good points for the championship.”

Meanwhile, Vautier, who has shown impressive bursts of talent in his first few IndyCar races, was left slightly disappointed following Sunday’s run despite collecting his first Top-10 in the series.

“Today was a pretty tough race,” he said. “I learned a lot and that’s good, but really, I was struggling with space and I asked my engineer for a little too many changes and wasn’t quite there on the pure speed.

“I made a few mistakes, three big mistakes that cost us a lot. I think next time, I just need a better pace and to avoid those mistakes.”

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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