Currently 0-for-2 in the new Verizon IndyCar Series season, Andretti Autosport is primed to change that stat and improve its average up to .333 this weekend in Barber.
All four of its drivers have a story for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, as the team seeks a win in the first Honda-sponsored race of the year and since it returned to the manufacturer ahead of the season.
For Ryan Hunter-Reay, he has a chance to go back-to-back in this race after a sterling drive in 2013 from pole, capped off with a pass of Helio Castroneves at Turn 5 for the win late in the going.
“In 2013, at Barber, we had one of those race weekends you strive to achieve each time you show up at the track,” he said in the team’s advance release. “Taking the win from pole at such a challenging track was a tremendous achievement by our team as a whole, and proved that we our preparation for the road courses had paid off. Hopefully we can defend our win, but it will be tough as hundredths of a second in qualifying could prove to be the difference maker.”
Rookie teammate Carlos Munoz also has a chance to go back-to-back … albeit in a different fashion. He won the Indy Lights race at Barber last year and seeks his second straight and third overall IndyCar podium finish. His first win would provide nice closure considering he has a runner-up (2013 Indianapolis 500) and third place finish (Long Beach last race) already in the bag.
“I’m beginning the weekend really good emotionally,” said the young Colombian. “I have good momentum after our podium in Long Beach; I think that helped me a lot. Barber is a track that I like a lot… I won there in Indy Lights last year and I’ve been really fast in the past. I tested there in the Indy car during preseason testing but it’s going to be completely different – different conditions, so we’ll see what happens. The track is really hard physically, it demands a lot.”
It would not be a surprise to see Marco Andretti or James Hinchcliffe do well at Barber, either.
Andretti has traditionally qualified well at the flowing road course, and he has two fourth-place finishes there. He’s also led laps in the race before. A year ago, he was seventh.
“The team, as a whole, has good cars at Barber, so we’re looking forward to a competitive weekend for the Snapple team. We almost won the race in 2010 and have three top-seven finishes and two top fives – hoping for a podium this weekend and to move inside the top ten in points,” he said.
For Hinchcliffe, merely completing a lap will be an improvement over his 2013 disaster, when he followed his St. Petersburg win with a first lap DNF, and promptly was stuck in the car the rest of the race.
“I think it goes without saying that we’re looking for a better result at Barber (Motorsports Park) this year than we had last year; just turning a lap would already be a step in the right direction!” he joked. “Not that I mind watching a good race, don’t get me wrong, I just prefer to not do it from the cockpit of my race car while stranded in the infield.”
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.