Ryan Hunter-Reay looks to win once again. Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar 2017 team preview: Andretti Autosport

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MotorSportsTalk looks through the teams competing in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Although Andretti Autosport dominated the month of May at Indianapolis and scored the victory in the 100th Indianapolis 500, it was the lone bright spot in an otherwise challenging campaign. An engineering and partial driver reset beckons for 2017.

Drivers (Engineer, Strategist)

26-Takuma Sato (Garrett Mothershead, Paul “Ziggy” Harcus)
27-Marco Andretti (Nathan O’Rourke, Bryan Herta)
28-Ryan Hunter-Reay (Ray Gosselin both)
98-Alexander Rossi (Jeremy Milless, Rob Edwards)

Manufacturer/aero kit: Honda

Sponsors: Panasonic (No. 26), hhgregg (No. 27), DHL (No. 28), NAPA Auto Parts, CURB Records (No. 98)

Rossi has a year's worth of IndyCar experience. Photo: IndyCar
Rossi has a year’s worth of IndyCar experience. Photo: IndyCar

What went right in 2016: The month of May at Indianapolis. Otherwise, not much in a year the team would otherwise rather forget.

What went wrong in 2016: Pretty much everything other than the month of May at Indianapolis, and Sonoma when the team finally found a spark in performance. Ryan Hunter-Reay’s efforts at a handful of oval races, in particular, were wasted. 

Marco Andretti is among those who need a bounce back year. Photo: IndyCar
Marco Andretti is among those who need a bounce back year. Photo: IndyCar

What’s changed for 2017: Lots. Eric Bretzman should guide the team as new technical director. Alexander Rossi has both a year of experience now under his belt along with both a new strategist and race engineer. Marco Andretti reunites with Bryan Herta, now on his box. And Takuma Sato replaces Carlos Munoz as fourth driver. Michael Andretti moves off the strategist box. There’s a lot to meld here but also the usual upside of potential.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: Greater consistency in both qualifying and races and a return to victory lane in other races. Hunter-Reay’s dogged determination is the hallmark of his career and he should be back to scoring at least one win. Rossi will seek further podiums and wins, while Andretti and Sato will look to break out of the proverbial midpack and match their ability level with some results.

Sato joins Andretti Autosport. Photo: IndyCar
Sato joins Andretti Autosport. Photo: IndyCar

MST PREDICTIONS

Tony DiZinno: It’s hard to see more than two of the four drivers here winning based on recent performance, and with how few tracks the Honda package has a clear advantage. That said, I could see both Hunter-Reay and Rossi winning this year, and if the cards fall right on strategy, Andretti or Sato could steal a win. Hunter-Reay and Rossi will enter the top-10 in points and the other two will be back on the podium this year after challenging 2016 seasons.

Kyle Lavigne: Andretti Autosport had an astounding juxtaposition of results in 2016. They had the dominant package at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but could barely get out of their own way at Iowa Speedway. Ryan Hunter-Reay scored strong results at St. Petersburg, Detroit, and Road America, but most of the road and street races left a lot to be desired.

All told, fixing their street course program may be the most important aspect to their 2017 season. It proved to be their Achilles’ heel in 2016 and dramatically set them back in the championship.

If they perform like they’re capable of on those circuits, Ryan Hunter-Reay could again become a championship contender while Alexander Rossi could become a regular front runner. Takuma Sato has has always been fast and may challenge for podiums, but questionable driving decisions and a multitude of crashes have hampered his career and it’s hard to imagine him breaking that habit this late into his career. Marco Andretti will be happy to leave 2016 behind and should bounce back in 2017, especially on the ovals.

Luke Smith: Andretti is one of the hardest teams to peg given its varying form throughout 2016. Consistency and stability are what Michael Andretti will want from his team this year; quite whether it will arrive is another story.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will be the lead man once again, and should nab a victory or two. Alexander Rossi needs to prove himself this year after – Indy 500 victory aside – a so-so debut campaign. Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato are both in recovery mode after horrible 2016s, but I don’t see things changing a great deal for them. If either can hit the podium, it would be a big breakthrough.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).