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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.