Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz,

Andretti Autosport comes up empty after dominant month of May

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They were the dominant team of this year’s month of May in Indianapolis. And yet, somehow, it all ended so empty for Andretti Autosport.

Colombian rookie Carlos Munoz repeated his heroics of qualifying as he finished second after starting there. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti finished just behind in third and fourth, but were out of position and firmly “in the wrong place at the wrong time” toward the end of the race. E.J. Viso had his best 500 appearance but ended only 18th after a pit stop stall, while James Hinchcliffe was the team’s only non-factor, with a near spin off Turn 2 and a disappointing 21st place result.

All five drivers combined to lead the race for a total of 81 laps (Andretti 31, Hunter-Reay 26, Munoz 12, Hinchcliffe 7 and Viso 5). But it was where Hunter-Reay, Munoz and Andretti were all stationed for the thrilling climax of the race that ultimately proved their demise.

On lap 197, Hunter-Reay restarted first ahead of eventual race winner Tony Kanaan, with Munoz third and Andretti fourth. Hunter-Reay was a sitting duck on the restart and Kanaan blew past, with Munoz following suit shortly thereafter.

“We were leading and the rest is history,” Hunter-Reay admitted. “When you’re up front leading, especially on a restart, you might as well be driving a bulldozer.  Everybody came on by. I’m actually happy we got third.  I figured with that restart, being first, we would have been shuffled back to fourth or so.”

Given the way the race had transpired, with lead changes happening nearly every lap, if not more than once during a lap, Hunter-Reay had reason to feel aggrieved.

He led 13 times for 26 laps and had it not been for the final caution when Dario Franchitti crashed, Hunter-Reay could have repassed Kanaan to take the lead back. All that said, Hunter-Reay was fine with the race ending under yellow, given the tradition of just 200 laps and 500 miles for Indianapolis.

“This is Indy, there’s a certain way things are done.  If tradition is tradition, we don’t materialize results, we don’t try to produce results out of green-white-checkereds.  It can be a bit gimmicky.”

Munoz, who ended best of all five drivers, was the month’s revelation. Showing the sign and grit of determination, he was actually disappointed with second – ironic given he didn’t mind ending fourth on Friday in the dramatic conclusion to the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100!

“I really wanted to fight for the win, maybe I could win, maybe not, but I really wanted to fight,” Munoz said. “Hopefully in the future, I will be able to drink milk. Right now, I’m thirsty.”

Andretti, once again, seemed the presumptive favorite heading into Sunday. And once again, he came up short. A positive takeaway is that he now leads the points by 11 over Takuma Sato, but it was small consolation.

“It was unfortunate as I fell to the back late. It’s very frustrating,” he admitted to ABC post-race. “But if anyone deserves a win it’s him (Kanaan).”

Viso was another who had a shot but a stall on a lap 154 pit stop cost him any chance. Hinchcliffe’s dirt-tracking escapades around the halfway mark, where he caught the car on exit of Turn 2, was symptomatic of a rare day where his usually stellar GoDaddy crew just missed the setup.

The positive is that Michael Andretti’s team could afford to be disappointed with three of its cars in the top five. Of course, at Indy, winning is really the only thing that matters.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden
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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2015. Next up on the heels of another breakout year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently re-signed with CFH Racing for 2016.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

Josef Newgarden’s fourth year in the Verizon IndyCar Series was firmly, and without question, the year he arrived as the series’ biggest rising star. It followed on nicely after three prior years where he seemed to hit almost all the high points at various stages, but didn’t put together a fully complete season.

Perhaps some of that was due to having a teammate for the first time in his career, although it was not the same driver throughout the year – it was split between Luca Filippi and Ed Carpenter depending on the circuit. Still, there was always a second set of data to study and analyze. Even better, there was a Chevrolet in the back of his car for the first time, and that likely helped matters a bit. And retaining Jeremy Milless as his engineer continued to pay dividends; you can’t teach chemistry and it’s apparent these two have it.

It spoke volumes that in qualifying, Newgarden was the single fastest driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps all season. An average starting position of 8.4 was not only a career best, but best in the field behind six combined drivers from the two established “super teams.” Only at Detroit, where he had a nightmare weekend and at Texas, where Carpenter admitted the team missed the setup, did he start outside the top 12.

Yet it was in the races where again, he shone brightest. The Barber win was as dominant as it was overdue and deserved. The Toronto win – if a bit lucky due to when the cautions and pit stop cycle fell – was also well executed. Then the drives on the ovals at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono were excellent.

Far too often though, still, pit stops proved Newgarden’s undoing. Mid-Ohio was a sore spot again, and Sonoma in particular was the nadir. The other tough results races, notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Fontana, came through mistakes not of his own doing. Really only Detroit was a weekend he’d like to have back.

But he led the most laps in the field, he finally broke through to win, and firmly lived up to the hype and potential that’s been building for years. If you’ve been paying attention more than just this year though, Newgarden’s 2015 season will have come as no surprise.