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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.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.