Marco Andretti gave his 2017 season an early shot in the arm by turning the fastest lap in opening practice for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He backed it up with the eighth fastest time in the second practice, which put him eighth fastest overall for the day, a solid start after a dismal 2016 season.
Andretti commented that his performance was a result of the Andretti Autosport team getting to grips with the track. He explained, “I just think we did a good job chasing the track. I mean, the track is very low-grip, which is not what we were expecting. We were expecting the new pavement to be higher-grip. Everybody’s sliding around a lot and I think we just did a good job of chasing it.”
Andretti was also quick to credit new technical director Eric Bretzman for improving the team’s engineering efforts. “He’s fantastic. It’s what we needed. I talked to him all through the off-season. I talked to him every week. He really updates me, includes us in development, which is very important. So, it’s very good.”
He was also pleased to run the softer “red” tires on Friday afternoon, a change in policy for Friday practice sessions. “It takes some of the guessing out of it,” he asserted. “A lot of the time, you’d guess wrong on the balance for qualifying. I don’t think it should be a guessing game. So I think that’s good to get a run on them before qualifying.”
One element that could throw a wrench into things is weather. Rain is a possibility for Sunday’s race, but Andretti did not express concern, referencing the need to adapt to changing conditions and the influence teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay has on his mindset. “It’s the same for everybody. We know in Florida sometimes it’s just humid and it goes away,” he said of the weather. “But, we just have to adapt. That’s what Ryan is good at. Where I used to get worked up about things, like (changing) Turn 3, I’d be like ‘Oh man, they’re changing Turn 3,’ and he’d be like ‘I don’t care if tomorrow we run this track upside down. We’re going to conquer it.’ So, it’s a good mindset to have: make big problems into little problems. He definitely helps turn mountains into molehills for me.”
In all, Andretti is confident at the conclusion of Friday’s practices. “I think I’ve made gains. I think Honda has made gains. Our team approach has made gains. If we each make small gains, it could be a big (gain).”
Saturday practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg begins at 10:50 a.m. ET.