IndyCar: Wilson leads Andretti contingent on a rough qualifying day for Honda

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INDIANAPOLIS – The good news first: Justin Wilson is back in an IndyCar, on the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis race weekend, with one of the series’ marquee teams in Andretti Autosport.

The bad news: Wilson is 18th, which means all four Andretti cars are 18th or worse (Ryan Hunter-Reay is 19th, Carlos Munoz 21st and Marco Andretti 24th), and Hondas are struggling mightily with one or more of the following issues: setup, balance, too much/too little downforce and not enough top end speed.

Only Jack Hawksworth and James Hinchcliffe, in 11th and 13th respectively, broke up the 13 Chevrolet entrants from a top-13 lockout. Chevys ran 1-10, 12, 14 and 15 in qualifying; Hondas were 11th, 13th, and 16th to 25th and last.

Friday marked only Wilson’s second day in an IndyCar this year, and when I spoke to him briefly before third practice this morning, you could easily sense the frustration despite his best efforts to mask it.

Still, ever the gentleman and ever the consummate professional, Wilson is keeping his head up despite the circumstances on arguably one of his toughest weekends yet in his IndyCar career, which dates to 2004.

This weekend, he’s racing with a new team and getting his first laps behind the wheel of the new Honda aero kit-equipped Verizon IndyCar. He’ll have Blair Perschbacher as engineer along with Andretti Autosport director of race operations Rob Edwards overseeing the effort. He completed 57 laps on Thursday and today, was right in the thick of things on Friday despite not having been behind the wheel of an IndyCar in road course trim since August 2014.

The positive sign, if any, from the day was how much better Wilson said the car felt on Firestone’s softer red alternate tires, compared to the harder, primary blacks.

“We went out on black tires for the first run and I felt so loose, I thought we over shot this run, but we seem to be on one side of the balance and can’t seem to find that sweet spot right in the middle,” Wilson said in a release.

“When we put the Firestone red tires on the car, it brought the balance to life and we actually started to roll some speed into the corners and we started to get some grip. It was good, I just wish we could be a fraction quicker.

“We’re pushing, we’re trying hard and we have been behind all weekend, but we’re trying to catch up. I’ve been really happy with our tire life, so I’m hoping that is going to continue into race day and play in our favor so we’ll have a good consistent car.”

If results were handed out on positivity, professionalism and persistence alone, Wilson would already be a podium contender on Saturday.

Alas, it might take a bit of rain, a bit of luck, and a bit more pace for the Honda runners for Wilson’s first start of 2015 to bear the result all parties desire.