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.