Getty Images

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Marco Andretti

1 Comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. Marco Andretti improved a bit from 2016 but still had a year shy of expectations, ending 12th.

Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2016: 16th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 11th, 0 Top-5, 3 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 17.4 Avg. Start, 12.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 12th Place, Best Finish 4th, Best Start 8th, 1 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 16 Laps Led, 13.4 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish

The latest season reset for Marco Andretti came after a career-worst 2016, but like after his last career-worst year of 2012, Andretti took a look in the mirror and sought to correct things that weren’t going right. There were also team adjustments – for Andretti specifically, namely moving Bryan Herta over to his timing stand to become race strategist – aimed at lifting him back out of the upper midfield into the upper crust of the field.

Did it all work? Sort of. Andretti improved upon every measurable stat from 2016, but Andretti still ranked 12th in points, fourth among four of the Andretti Autosport drivers as Alexander Rossi (11th to seventh), Takuma Sato (17th to eighth) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (12th to ninth) slotted into higher positions in the standings.

At Andretti’s traditionally strong circuits – St. Petersburg, Barber, Indianapolis, Iowa and Sonoma – he banked three of his best season finishes. He book-ended the year with sevenths and added an eighth in the Indianapolis 500, but he never quite looked the measure of his teammates in May. His best result came in Toronto with fourth but even then he finished behind Rossi, and one spot ahead of Hunter-Reay, and all of those three drivers benefited from lucky caution timing.

The challenge here was in-weekend consistency. Andretti was a top-three regular on a number of Fridays in practice in road and street course races. But far too often, he and engineer Nathan O’Rourke worked to push harder in qualifying and going just outside that ideal setup window backfired. Andretti failed to make a Firestone Fast Six for a third consecutive season; come St. Petersburg next year, it will be four years since the last time he made the top six in qualifying on one of these circuits. That again made Sundays a day of playing catch-up.

Sato had Andretti on pace, Rossi had him on consistency and Hunter-Reay had him on grit. Andretti remained a regular race finisher, if nothing else. His two DNFs were not his fault, with a mechanical issue in Long Beach and getting collected by Mikhail Aleshin in Phoenix.

Now 30 and married, Andretti has a lot going for him and does remain focused on his task at hand. Still, he’s now hit 12 seasons complete with 200 career starts, and for the his first time in his career he finished out of the top-10 in points in successive years. He’ll have another opportunity to change the narrative with the new universal aero kit in 2018.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

Follow @KyleMLavigne