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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Marco Andretti

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. Marco Andretti improved a bit from 2016 but still had a year shy of expectations, ending 12th.

Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 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
  • 2017: 12th Place, Best Finish 4th, Best Start 8th, 1 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 16 Laps Led, 13.4 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish

The latest season reset for Marco Andretti came after a career-worst 2016, but like after his last career-worst year of 2012, Andretti took a look in the mirror and sought to correct things that weren’t going right. There were also team adjustments – for Andretti specifically, namely moving Bryan Herta over to his timing stand to become race strategist – aimed at lifting him back out of the upper midfield into the upper crust of the field.

Did it all work? Sort of. Andretti improved upon every measurable stat from 2016, but Andretti still ranked 12th in points, fourth among four of the Andretti Autosport drivers as Alexander Rossi (11th to seventh), Takuma Sato (17th to eighth) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (12th to ninth) slotted into higher positions in the standings.

At Andretti’s traditionally strong circuits – St. Petersburg, Barber, Indianapolis, Iowa and Sonoma – he banked three of his best season finishes. He book-ended the year with sevenths and added an eighth in the Indianapolis 500, but he never quite looked the measure of his teammates in May. His best result came in Toronto with fourth but even then he finished behind Rossi, and one spot ahead of Hunter-Reay, and all of those three drivers benefited from lucky caution timing.

The challenge here was in-weekend consistency. Andretti was a top-three regular on a number of Fridays in practice in road and street course races. But far too often, he and engineer Nathan O’Rourke worked to push harder in qualifying and going just outside that ideal setup window backfired. Andretti failed to make a Firestone Fast Six for a third consecutive season; come St. Petersburg next year, it will be four years since the last time he made the top six in qualifying on one of these circuits. That again made Sundays a day of playing catch-up.

Sato had Andretti on pace, Rossi had him on consistency and Hunter-Reay had him on grit. Andretti remained a regular race finisher, if nothing else. His two DNFs were not his fault, with a mechanical issue in Long Beach and getting collected by Mikhail Aleshin in Phoenix.

Now 30 and married, Andretti has a lot going for him and does remain focused on his task at hand. Still, he’s now hit 12 seasons complete with 200 career starts, and for the his first time in his career he finished out of the top-10 in points in successive years. He’ll have another opportunity to change the narrative with the new universal aero kit in 2018.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.