At 65 and 76 points back, respectively, in the IZOD IndyCar Series 2013 points standings, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti will need a mix of ill fortune on Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon plus wins or podiums of their own to close down the gap in the remaining five races.
Their chances would be helped, massively, by a big-time qualifying run at Sonoma next weekend.
For all of Andretti Autosport’s accolades over the years, Sonoma Raceway has been something of a bogey track for the team. And especially compared to rivals Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, mere fractions of seconds have made the job on Sunday all the more difficult for Andretti’s quartet.
The team has not made a Firestone Fast Six at Sonoma since 2009, when Andretti and Hideki Mutoh qualified fourth and fifth. That year, the then-Andretti Green Racing placed all five of its race entries into the top 11 on the grid. Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway have come close the last two years, but just missed.
Here’s a breakdown of their grid positions at Sonoma since 2009:
- 2012: 7 (Hunter-Reay), 10 (James Hinchcliffe), 12 (Andretti), 23 (Sebastian Saavedra)
- 2011: 7 (Mike Conway), 14 (Andretti), 19 (Hunter-Reay), 25 (Danica Patrick)
- 2010: 8 (Hunter-Reay), 9 (Tony Kanaan), 18 (Andretti), 23 (Patrick)
- 2009: 4 (Andretti), 5 (Mutoh), 7 (Kanaan), 8 (Franck Montagny), 11 (Patrick)
Unsurprisingly, that’s made it difficult for any in the Andretti contingent to post a result at a track notorious for its lack of passing opportunities. No Andretti driver has claimed a top-five result at Sonoma in the last three years, and Mutoh’s fifth place in 2009 was the last top-five finish for the team there.
The improved team chemistry between this year’s quartet of Hunter-Reay, Andretti, James Hinchcliffe (who has one Fast Six appearance at Sonoma, in 2011) and E.J. Viso with engineers Ray Gosselin, Blair Perschbacher, Craig Hampson and Michael Cannon has paid dividends with excellent qualifying efforts for most of this year. As another confidence booster, Hunter-Reay set the unofficial fastest time in Tuesday’s open test.
Next week, they need to continue that Saturday performance to give themselves a fighting chance.