WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Michael Andretti’s team has its engine situation sorted for the foreseeable future following a summer of speculation and question marks over whether Andretti Autosport would continue with Honda, as they now have, or would switch to Chevrolet.
The formal announcement came out Thursday morning ahead of this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, the second-to-last race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. Andretti and the team debated hard on a switch but have ultimately determined Honda as the best course of action ahead.
“It’s a big relief. It gives us a chance to focus on next year,” Andretti told NBC Sports Thursday in the paddock. “I’m excited that we got things done this early. Now the fun stuff starts.”
The “fun stuff” is sorting the rest of the driver lineup beyond long-term drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, who’ve been in Andretti Autosport IndyCars since 2010 and 2006, respectively.
Alexander Rossi may well continue but is examining his options within the Honda sphere. Several other young guns with various degrees of recent IndyCar experience have been hinted as possible additions to the team in place of Takuma Sato, who has not been formally confirmed to depart to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, but will not return to Andretti Autosport next year.
On Rossi’s status, Andretti said, “I think he’s done exactly what I thought he’d do (in his second year). He learned a lot last year. He’s put it to good use this year. A lot of places, he’s been our best car. I hope we can keep him in the family.”
Andretti also plans to continue with four full-time entries, which would leave one open seat if Rossi re-signs, or two if he doesn’t. A fifth car has been rumored but whether it pans out beyond its usual one-off run at the Indianapolis 500 remains to be seen.
“At this moment we’re looking at four cars. We’re close on the one. I feel good that we’ll have something to announce at Sonoma,” he said.
Fernando Alonso, who drove in a McLaren Honda Andretti entry at this year’s Indianapolis 500, did not come up in this Thursday conversation. On Wednesday Andretti retweeted Alonso’s cheeky reply back to an @IndyCar tweet which suggested the two-time Formula 1 World Champion would enjoy racing in IndyCar. Ultimately, Alonso will not be a realistic IndyCar topic of discussion until his F1 future with McLaren Honda is sorted one way or another.
Andretti’s exploration of Chevrolet was real but ultimately didn’t pan out. Instead, he feels optimistic Honda will be able to improve enough in the years to come to see the team back in full-season title contention, and believes the elimination of manufacturer aero kits will play to Honda’s favor at certain points.
“We were seriously looking at it; there’s both sides of it. You couldn’t go wrong either way,” he said. “Chevy was great to work with when we were with them. But in the end the continuity with Honda ended up being the thing that helped make up our mind.
“I think they’ve done a fantastic job with their motor the last three years we’ve been with them. That was something they were very strong on. The (aero) kit caught us out sometimes; when the kit wasn’t as good as the Chevrolet, the horsepower kept us in the game. They’ve done a really good job with the engine.”
As ever, there’s no shortage of activity within the overall Andretti Autosport framework. The team’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season wraps with the quartet of Colton Herta (under the Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing team name), Nico Jamin, Dalton Kellett and Ryan Norman.
Its Volkswagen Beetle GRC program in Red Bull Global Rallycross is in search of its third straight championship, its FIA Formula E Championship prospects are enhanced with BMW’s increased manufacturer involvement and Andretti could have at least one more program percolating in another series entirely.
“We’ve stepped up all our programs this year. That makes you feel good that the work over the offseason has helped. We feel we know the weak spots to fix,” Andretti explained.
“The Lights guys have been more competitive this year. There’s been mistakes but this is the series for that to happen; Colton’s 17 and has done a great job, and so have Nico, Dalton and Ryan.
“GRC, we have to try to win the championship this year. Formula E, we’re making big changes there over the winter. As BMW gets more integrated, it will make us stronger. We should be much more competitive next year.
“There’s a couple other series we’re looking at… sports cars is one of them, there’s another we’re looking at and hope to announce something soon.”
In the interim, the Andretti Autosport IndyCar program will look to end the year on a high, in the final two races of the aero kit era and before the next chapter in Andretti and Honda’s respective histories are written.