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IndyCar: Andretti Autosport 2018 Review

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Editor’s note: MotorSportsTalk continues to review how each organization in the IndyCar Series performed in 2018 and also takes a look ahead to 2019.

Thus far we have featured Juncos RacingMeyer Shank RacingCarlin Racing, Harding Racing, AJ Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser SullivanDale Coyne Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Team Penske.

Today we feature Andretti Autosport (one more reviews remain after today: Chip Ganassi Racing on Monday):

Andretti Autosport 2018 Season Review

Andretti Autosport was back in championship form after a tough three years in the aero kit era.

They won five races, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (2) and Alexander Rossi (3), and five poles, between Hunter-Reay (1), Rossi (3), and Marco Andretti (1).

Rossi and Hunter-Reay ended up second and fourth in the standings, while Andretti eeked out a top 10 – he finished up ninth. Zach Veach also enjoyed a solid year, his first full IndyCar season.

This team has been a powerhouse under various iterations. They were Indy 500 winners and champions under the Team Green banner in the 1990s, and again in the 2000s under the Andretti Green moniker, and have remained so under Andretti Autosport branding since 2010.

And after a couple lean years, at least in terms of championship prowess – they did win the Indy 500 three times between 2014, 2016, and 2017 – Andretti Autosport is back in championship form and should contend for another title in 2019.

 

Alexander Rossi

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Team: Andretti Autosport, No. 27 Napa Auto Parts Honda
Years in IndyCar: 3
Career wins and podiums: 5 wins, 12 podiums
2018 final standing: 2nd
2018 final stats: 17 starts, 3 poles, 3 wins, 8 podiums, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s
2018 best race finish: 1st (Long Beach, Mid-Ohio, Pocono)

SEASON WRAPUP: Rossi turned himself into a bonafide title contender in 2018, with three wins as he pushed Scott Dixon all the way to the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

Rossi has everything you need to be a champion. He’s fast. He’s aggressive. He’s calculated when he has to be. He is very much the real deal…and another Indy 500 win may be beckoning as well.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: Rossi just needs to do more of the same, and maybe rein himself in just a tad so he doesn’t give away any points (like he did at Detroit Race 2). Still, Rossi should be a title contender again in 2019.

QUOTE (following Sonoma, where he finished sixth): “Hats off to the whole No. 27 NAPA Team. It was a great day for Andretti Autosport with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) winning. It’s very unfortunate what happened in Turn 1 on Lap 1. It’s a situation I’m sure we’ll all replay a lot of times but, at the end of the day, it’s been a good 2018 and I am very appreciative for all the support we’ve had this year. We came pretty close and we’ll work on the things we need to be better on and come back stronger next year. (Scott) Dixon’s the benchmark. He’s the five-time champion for a reason so he deserves it 100 percent and we’ll work very hard to come back and try to beat him next year.”

 

Ryan Hunter-Reay

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Team: Andretti Autosport, No. 28 DHL Honda
Years in IndyCar: 15
Career wins and podiums: 16 wins, 41 podiums
2018 final standing: 4th
2018 final stats: 17 starts, 1 pole, 2 wins, 6 podiums, 10 top fives, 11 top 10s
2018 best race finish: 1st (Detroit Race 2, Sonoma)

SEASON WRAPUP: Ryan Hunter-Reay had a strong 2018 season, but he also might be wondering what might have been.

He was back in championship form, with one pole, a pair of wins, and six podiums, and he stayed in the title picture through the first half of the season. However, six finishes of 16th or worse blighted his title efforts and he settled for fourth in the standings at season’s end.

Still, he had his best year since his 2012 championship season. And the soon-to-be 38-year-old is not slowing down at all, so another championship or Indy 500 victory could be in his future.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: Hunter-Reay should definitely be a title contender again in 2019. And if he can somehow avoid DNFs, he might be one of the favorites.

QUOTE (following Sonoma, where he won): “Today was great. I felt like the race just didn’t want to end. I guess that’s what happens when you spend the whole day out front. Any time I needed the pace to put it down, we leaped out to a lead. I was able to maintain that. Hats off to this team, DHL, AutoNation, Honda – everyone involved. Honda really gave me great drivability, reliability. The Firestone tires were great. Shout out to Kerry Doughty, CEO of Butterball, fighting cancer at home right now. His name was on the side of our car today – this is a special win for him and we’re honored to have him with us in spirit. Also, a big shout out to Robbie Wickens – I want to dedicate that win to him and his fight. It was great to see the video message from him today and, hopefully, he will be back with us as soon as possible.”

 

Marco Andretti

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Team: Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, No. 98 U.S. Concrete Honda
Years in IndyCar: 13
Career wins and podiums: 2 wins, 20 podiums
2018 final standing: 9th
2018 final stats: 17 starts, 1 pole, 0 wins, 0 podiums, 2 top fives, 8 top 10s
2018 best race finish: 4th (Detroit Race 1)

SEASON WRAPUP: Marco Andretti got better in his second year under the tutelage of Bryan Herta, finishing in the top 10 in the championship, scoring a pole (Detroit Race 1), and netting a pair of top fives.

Andretti continues to rebuild a career that has hit several stumbling blocks, though he remains one of the more talented drivers on the grid. His style also seems more fitted to the 2018 universal aero kit than the previous Honda aero kit, which may have also contributed to an uptick in form.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: Andretti will be desperate to end a winless streak that goes back to 2011 (at Iowa Speedway). He’ll also seek that elusive Indy 500 win.

QUOTE (following Sonoma, where he finished fifth): “I’m very pleased to be this quick on a road course here. Not a bad finish for the last race at Sonoma, I would’ve liked it to have gone a bit better. I think if we went with (Firestone) reds early on I think we could have kept (Simon) Pagenaud behind us. (Alexander) Rossi was amazingly quick and we tried to make it easy on him out of the pits and give him a shot. It was pretty cool of them, they knew I gave them the position, and they gave it back there at the end, so we were able to come out with a top five. Congrats to Ryan (Hunter-Reay) for closing out the year with a win. We’re ready for 2019.”

 

Zach Veach

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Team: Andretti Autosport, No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda
Years in IndyCar: 1
Career wins and podiums: 0 wins, 200 podiums
2018 final standing: 15th
2018 final stats: 17 starts, 0 wins, 0 podiums, 2 top fives, 5 top 10s
2018 best race finish: 4th (Long Beach)

SEASON WRAPUP: Zach Veach’s rookie campaign was unspectacular, but he got better as the year went on and he earned the trust of his teammates when it comes to setup knowledge – when Rossi won at Pocono Raceway, he was keen to compliment Veach, who tested at Pocono earlier in the month, for gathering valuable setup data.

It’s surprising that Veach’s best result came early in the season given that he got much better as the year went on, but he never was quite able to get on the podium despite the improved form.

Still, it was a fine rookie campaign and a strong foundation on which he can build.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: Veach will aim for his first career podium and win in 2019. Finishing in the top 10 in the standings isn’t out of the question either.

QUOTE (following Long Beach, where he finished fourth): “(Fourth) feels like a win, to be honest. The crew was pushing me pretty hard at the end to try to get on the podium but… after St. Pete, after Phoenix, we’ve just been chipping away on it and we took a big swing at it today. I’ve got to thank my Group One Thousand One guys, honestly. I kind of made a mishap in qualifying to put us 16th. Today we had great strategy, great stops. They got me to where I could capitalize on it so this is more for them than me.”

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IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.