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 2017 driver review: Remaining part-time drivers

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MotorSportsTalk wraps up its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the remaining part-time drivers, after the 23 drivers who ran anywhere from six events to the full season.

There were 15 drivers who made four or fewer starts this season. Some overly impressed or drew major headlines in their limited opportunities.

They were, by start count:

  • Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 4)
  • Gabby Chaves (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, 3)
  • Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 3)
  • Jack Harvey (No. 50 MSR w/Andretti Autosport Honda, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 3)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, 2)
  • Zach Veach (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, 2)
  • Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti Honda, 1)
  • Pippa Mann (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Jay Howard (No. 77 Team One Cure/SPM Honda, 1)
  • Sage Karam (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, 1)
  • James Davison (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, 1)
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo (No. 13 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 1)
  • Robert Wickens (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Practice Only)

Going through them, in terms of impact, Alonso’s one-off at the Indianapolis 500 easily resonated loudest. It was incredible to witness the amount of buzz, worldwide support and media attention that Alonso generated, and fueled a running joke that he was the only driver in this year’s race. It was capped off when he beat Ed Jones to race rookie-of-the-year honors, despite losing a Honda engine late while Jones dragged a broken Dale Coyne Racing car to third place.

Elsewhere, Chaves and Harding Racing’s debut was the most unexpected pleasant surprise from a driver and team standpoint. A solid ninth at Indianapolis was followed by an even more impressive fifth at Texas. Their three oval races laid the groundwork for a step-up to a full-time entry in 2018.

Montoya proved he still had it with a pair of top-10s in a fifth Team Penske car. He’ll be in Penske’s Acura prototype sports car program next year and the hope is that we haven’t seen the last of him in IndyCar.

Saavedra re-established himself on the scene after a year-plus hiatus. The likable Colombian overachieved given low expectations with two different teams. Whether it was enough to see him and longtime backer AFS Racing for further races in 2018 is unknown.

Harvey and Veach each came up to IndyCar for a cup of coffee, both rookies in the Indianapolis 500 alongside Alonso and Jones while also getting additional road course starts. Neither of them looked a world-beater in their road course outings owing to tough circumstances, but they logged key laps and miles to build for a brighter future from 2018 and beyond in recently announced multi-year programs (Harvey with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Veach with Andretti Autosport).

Of the rest, Servia’s results left a bit to be desired, a potential top-five fading in Indy when he and Davison collided to trigger a multi-car pileup. Davison and Vautier impressed in their lone starts of the year with their pace and aggression but were unable to parlay them into results.

Mann made her usual Indy 500 one-off entry and secured her best finish in six starts, but pressed through a challenging month that she’ll be keen to improve upon in 2018. Her day was significantly better than Howard’s and Lazier’s, who both ended their ‘500 bows in the wall, and with Howard having contributed to Scott Dixon’s savage accident when he crashed in Turn 1 and then came into Dixon’s path.

“ZCD” made his debut at Sonoma in a second RLL Racing entry and did rather well, competitive on lap times as the weekend progressed on a track that’s notoriously low-grip. Wickens never got that far. Despite a preseason ride swap with his close friend James Hinchcliffe that reignited his passion for open-wheel after several years, and with Mercedes announcing it would pull the plug on its DTM program after 2018, Wickens got only a practice day at Road America before Mikhail Aleshin sorted his visa issues. The circumstances evolved in Wickens’ favor at season’s end to see him get the second seat for 2018 at SPM after all.