Andretti Autosport rallying on the street courses

Photo: IndyCar
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To say that Andretti Autosport struggled at last year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach would be an understatement. Carlos Munoz was the only driver from their camp to qualify in the top ten (Ryan Hunter-Reay was 11th, Alexander Rossi 16th, and Marco Andretti 21st). Things only got worse on race day when Munoz could do no better than 11th, while Hunter-Reay faded way back to 18th. Andretti and Rossi ended the day 19th and 20th to cap what was a miserable weekend for the Michael Andretti-led squad.

What became apparent as the season progressed was that the Long Beach performance wasn’t much of a fluke. While they secured the occasional strong result on street courses, they remained a bugaboo for the entire team as they struggled to get their setups to handle the notoriously bumpy circuits.

Fast forward to 2017 and things look much better for the Andretti outfit. Ryan Hunter-Reay rebounded from a tough weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to finish fourth, just ahead of teammate Takuma Sato, while Marco Andretti drove well to finish seventh. An untimely caution hurt the strategy for Alexander Rossi, who finished 11th, but an eighth-place qualifying effort demonstrated a vast improvement in overall speed for him.

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (today, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN) is serving more proof that the Andretti team has regained their mojo on street courses. Although Takuma Sato languished back in 18th, both Hunter-Reay (third) and Rossi (fifth) qualified in the Firestone Fast Six, while Marco Andretti made it three Andretti cars in the top ten by qualifying tenth.

Hunter-Reay emphasized the sense of relief he feels with the knowledge that last year’s problems appear to be gone. “This is just nice after the season that we had last year, on street courses, for us to come back,” he said in the post-qualifying press conference. ” (We) worked really hard in the offseason to take a new direction, all new angle at street courses to be strong at St. Pete, come here to Long Beach, it’s nice again.”

Alexander Rossi on Seaside Way at Long Beach

Rossi echoed similar sentiments, further complimenting the efforts of the entire organization. “I think the turnaround that we as a team at Andretti have had since last year has been pretty unbelievable, especially (at Long Beach),” he asserted. “Huge credit to them, the belief they had in the offseason they were going to resolve the issues. That’s very cool to see and be a part of.”

Hunter-Reay also emphasized Honda’s engine developments have also been critical to the team’s uptick in form. “Honda has done a great job working over the offseason. We’ve been stepping up through specs. Each introduction of the next engine spec has been sometimes a small improvement, sometimes a chunk. It’s definitely made a difference,” he explained.

The former champion and Indy 500 winner also credited engineering additions, such as Eric Bretzman and Jeremy Milless. And, while he knows it’s still very early in the season, he added that it’s always nice to start off on the right foot. “The entire team has done a really good job, with Eric coming on, Jeremy, Alexander’s engineer. All of us really working together in the same direction has been beneficial so far. Early days still. We’ve only been to St. Pete. We just qualified for the second round of the season. Long way to go. I really won’t say much other than that. It’s a good start.”

Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

Rolex 24 Meyer Shank
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car.

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021). Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.