IndyCar 2016 team preview: Andretti Autosport

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NBC Sports takes a look through the teams competing in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series. Andretti Autosport had a nightmarish 2015 season even with three wins, and looks for a return to regular competitiveness in 2016 if the Honda aero kit updates bear fruit.

Team: Andretti Autosport
Engine/aero kits: Honda
Sponsors: Pint Pharmaceutical (No. 26), Dr Pepper Snapple (No. 27), DHL (No. 28), Andretti-Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian (No. 98)

2015 STATS

Races: 16
Wins: 3 (Hunter-Reay 2, Munoz 1)
Podiums: 7 (Hunter-Reay 3, Andretti 2, Munoz 1, Wilson 1)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1 (Hunter-Reay 1)
Points: 1424 (Hunter-Reay 436, Andretti 429, Munoz 349, Wilson 108, de Silvestro 66, Servia 36)
Laps Led: 167 (Hunter-Reay 71, Andretti 60, Munoz 25, Wilson 11)
Championship Position: 6th (Hunter-Reay), 9th (Andretti), 13th (Munoz), 24th (Wilson), 30th (de Silvestro), 32nd (Servia)

2016 LINEUP (Engineer in parentheses)

26 Carlos Munoz (Garrett Mothershead)
27 Marco Andretti (Nathan O’Rourke)
28 Ryan Hunter-Reay (Ray Gosselin)
98 Alexander Rossi (Tom German)

2015 TEAM RECAP (Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Munoz, Wilson driver recaps)

The win totals would suggest Andretti Autosport had a decent 2015, but by any account it was a trying, challenging and painful season for Michael Andretti’s squad. Competitiveness was the least of its problems; Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti worked some minor miracles to overcome a draggy, inefficient Honda aero kit most of the year. Then Andretti’s secondary business – Andretti Sports Marketing – had back-to-back tough first events it was promoting, before a lawsuit emerged between it and the team side that was later resolved. And then there was the major tragedy that befell not just the sport, but Andretti’s team directly, when Justin Wilson was killed at Pocono. It was no small coincidence that the team’s setup direction and performance improved in Wilson’s all-too-few starts.

2016 OUTLOOK

Wilson’s absence will be felt for 2016, as he’d been earmarked for a fourth seat full-season. Alas, the fourth seat now belongs to Alexander Rossi following an eleventh hour sequence of events whereby the Bryan Herta Autosport entry was folded into the Andretti Autosport team for 2016. Rossi’s talented no question, but given a limited preseason test program and his own inexperience on ovals, he’ll likely need a few races to gel and fully maximize his potential.

The other three drivers, however, continue with the same engineers and the same motivation to bounce back after the aforementioned tough 2015. There’s reason for optimism. Michael Andretti hailed the team dynamic and chemistry when I spoke to him at Phoenix, led by team manager Rob Edwards in his second year. A solid preseason test program sees the Honda closer to Chevrolet after maximizing both the allowable and Rule 9.3 updates. Marco Andretti remains one of the best at Indianapolis and is due a win there or elsewhere for the first time in five years, and if the car’s right, Ryan Hunter-Reay should resume as a title contender. Carlos Munoz must find a way to figure into more races in his third full season; he’s simply been anonymous too often outside of his first two ‘500s.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”