IndyCar 2016 driver review: Marco Andretti

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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field in 2016 with Marco Andretti, who had a nightmare season en route to 16th in points.

Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2015: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 3rd, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 60 Laps Led, 11.5 Avg. Start, 9.1 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 16th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 11th, 0 Top-5, 3 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 17.4 Avg. Start, 12.8 Avg. Finish

Let’s get the obvious single line out of the way first: this was Marco Andretti’s worst season in 11 full-time IndyCar campaigns. In 16 races, there were no podiums, no top-fives, only three top-10s finishes, not a single top-10 start, no laps led, and a career-worst average starting position of 17.4. The one bright side was Andretti was the only driver who finished all 16 races, and completed all but eight of the 2,070 laps this year, second only to Charlie Kimball (only missed four laps) in that category.

And now let’s dig deeper. Andretti is not – can’t be – as bad overall as he was this year. This is still a driver who banked top-10 finishes in points in eight of his first 10 seasons, and considering the depth of field, that’s still an achievement. He also was singularly identified as the weakest part of Andretti Autosport this year, but that overlooks the fact that the rest of the team had an overall struggle with mechanical grip throughout the year.

Qualifying was a problem throughout the Andretti quartet. None of the four full-time drivers had a top-10 qualifying average. In total, out of 65 combined qualifying attempts, there were only 16 combined top-10 starts (Carlos Munoz 6, Ryan Hunter-Reay 6, Alexander Rossi 3 and Townsend Bell 1). By contrast, Team Penske secured 28 of the 60 total possible Firestone Fast Six positions this year, while Andretti got four (Hunter-Reay 3, Munoz 1). Andretti himself only led the team’s quartet of qualifying once all year – in Phoenix, when he was 11th, and top Honda.

Andretti is, for better or worse, scrutinized more closely than most others in the field bar Graham Rahal simply because of his last name. Michael Andretti and Mario Andretti both had “off years” in their careers too; the difference was, their “off years” still often ranked in the lower regions of the top-10 in points and won a race or two. Other than his debut year of 1983, when he only started three races, Michael never finished outside the top-10 in points from 1984 to 2002. Mario Andretti is one of the greatest drivers of all-time… and his final season in 1994 saw him finish just 14th in points with one podium and a wealth of DNFs.

This isn’t to let Marco off the hook, but merely a couple notes to indicate that he, like his famous racing father and grandfather before him, is human. The Marco Andretti of 2016 is a more introspective driver; he owns his mistakes, he frequently apologizes because he isn’t the one getting the job done in qualifying, and he does, despite the outward perception that he seems to only care about his friends and the lifestyle he leads, truly want to succeed in this sport. The last time Marco had a year this bad, in 2012, he went through a major self-assessment over the winter and rebounded in a huge way in 2013. He should have won several races and even led the points early in the year. An encore would be a welcome tonic for him in 2017.

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.