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IndyCar Open Wheel

Andretti Misfortune Reminds of 2016 Struggles

Andretti Autosport’s outputs in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach could be re-opening wounds from a season ago.

Following a trio of topseven results last month at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, misfortunes that plagued the team in a winless 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season returned. While the quartet were not back markers, opportunities were missed.

The biggest disappointments were suffered by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi. RHR won at Long Beach in 2010 and appeared to be in a position to back up the result on Sunday. While running second, he slowed with six laps to go due to a mechanical issue, and finished 17th.

“We had a good showing for DHL and Honda today, but I don’t know what happened,” said Hunter-Reay. “It was something electrical. I tried cycling the car a few times and it didn’t fire.”

Rossi was also a challenger, only to grind to a halt on the front stretch on Lap 63 while in the top-five.

“I thought we had a really good shot at winning,” the 19th-place finisher said. “The pace of the car was really good, so it’s unfortunate.”

While bad breaks plagued it two front-runners,  Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato were never contenders for reaching the top ten. A mechanical gremlin ended Andretti’s hopes during hid first pit stop and he finished 20th. Sato’s team elected to use an off-sequence pit strategy, yet hit engine trouble and wound up 18th.

Although, Andretti Autosport is not the first team to witness all of its team members finish 17th or worse in a Verizon IndyCar Series race, it does cause one to look back at a team’s weaknesses.

For instance, the pressure surrounding Marco Andretti has to be at an all-time high. While frustrations from team owner Michael Andretti have never been made public, but the results say otherwiseThe third-generation driver has only two wins in 170 career IndyCar starts. The biggest negative has been a lack of aggression when in contention.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2013 IndyCar championship, but bad timing has been a common enemy. Whether mechanically-influenced  or via contact like the 100th Indianapolis 500, RHR has not been immune.

The same unlucky streak seems to be growing on Alexander Rossi also, who is becoming a greater threat for top ten finishes in his second IndyCar season. Although one mechanical failure is not necessarily the start of a mental barrier, it could over time.

Takuma Sato has been criticized for over-aggression. However, to a lesser extent, Sato is also a driver that can enter extended cold periods where impressive results have been limited. The difference between St. Pete and Long Beach seem to be a continuation of this roadblock.

A more competitive Honda package can aid some of the issues; unfortunately, not everything can be solved by the manufacturer. While Barber could quiet down all of the above concerns, another swing and miss will certainly increase the drama.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.                   

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Mario Andretti Talks Upcoming IndyCar Season at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Racing legend Mario Andretti visited Daytona International Speedway on Sunday for the 59th running of the Daytona 500.

Andretti, who won the “Great American Race” in 1967, was in attendance to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his only NASCAR win.

When he sat on the stage of the press conference room, a tribute video featuring his win started to play, allowing the retired Nazareth, Pennsylvania driver and media members a moment to reminisce about his historic victory in the No. 11 Holman-Moody Ford.

While the focus of his presser was about the notoriously loose racecar he brought to Victory Lane and the impact he had on the racing world with the 500 win, it also gave POPULAR SPEED an opportunity to ask about the upcoming Verizon IndyCar Series campaign.

Andretti Autosport made numerous engineering changes and added new team members in the offseason to prepare for the 2017 season.

Last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi has a new engineer for his No. 98 Honda. Jeremy Milless comes over from Ed Carpenter Racing to work with Rossi and Eric Bretzman, Chip Ganassi Racing’s former technical director, joins AA as the team’s new director. Notably, Bryan Herta, who was paired with Rossi, remains with the team and is now partnered with Marco Andretti.

It’s also worth noting Marco, Mario’s grandson, seemed remarkably enthusiastic for the upcoming IndyCar season as he smiled throughout the series’ “Prix-View” test at Phoenix International Raceway last month. Entering his 12th full season, the 29-year-old only has two career wins and is coming off a dismal 2016, where he finished 16th in the Championship standings and failed to earn a podium result.

“Alexander really came to life by winning the 100th running of the IndyCar race last year,” Mario said. “He’s a really strong member of the team. He says, ‘I hope that what we’ve done during the offseason, the engineering and some of the changes, some of the [new engineers] we’ve acquired, will make a difference.’

“You know, the hope is high. We have to be thinking positively,” he added.

AA’s only win last season came from Rossi’s shocking fuel-mileage victory at Indy. The team was a step behind Ganassi, and everyone was well behind the dominating Team Penske, but the Andretti organization believes they’ve made ground on the field’s top teams.

“There’s always somebody you think is going to be better than you, and that’s what raises your game,” the 77-year-old Andretti said. “The Penske team is always a team to contend with.

“They’ve always been a marquee team throughout their history. If you feel you’re good enough to beat them, then you’re in pretty good shape, and that hope is there.”

With Penske adding Josef Newgarden to its four-driver lineup and Simon Pagenaud coming off the 2016 title, the consensus among IndyCar fans and media is that Penske is still the series’ top dog.

But with Ganassi switching from Chevrolet to Honda and a lack of sponsorship for Scott Dixon being a distraction for the team entering the season, AA might be able to capitalize on its issues.

Ganassi was second-tier to Penske in 2016, but after “stagnant” changes within the organization as Dixon put it, AA could visit the winner’s circle more often than Ganassi this year.

“That’s the skin we have in the game with my son Michael [AA team owner] and having four cars,” Andretti said. “Every team is doing their utmost, and they just hope that it’s enough.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Engineer Swaps Could Be Key to Success

When the 2016 Verizon IndyCar season ended everyone was on notice that Team Penske would be the team to beat. With its four drivers, Simon Pagenaud (5 wins and the 2016 Championship), Will Power (4), Juan Pablo Montoya (1), and Helio Castroneves (0), the team racked up ten victories in sixteen events. Maybe not a surprise as Team Penske is known for its ultra professionalism and its name is synonymous with success.

This Chevrolet-powered team greatly contributed to the domination of Honda, the other engine manufacturer in the series. Scott Dixon (2 wins) driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Sebastien Bourdais (1) for KVSH Racing, and Josef Newgarden (1) for Ed Carpenter Racing gave Chevy its other four victories. Honda, however, did win the most coveted event, the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, with rookie Alexander Rossi driving for Andretti Autosport. Also winning for Honda was Graham Rahal (driving for his father’s team – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), by stealing a victory at Texas from fellow Honda driver, James Hinchcliffe (driving for Schmidt Peterson Racing). 

Making it even harder for teams to get to Winner’s Circle this year is the freeze on the development of aero kits that both Chevy and Honda designed (kits consisting of front and rear wings, side pods, and engine cover). And, while Honda seemed to be stronger than Chevy on superspeedways, Chevy won all the road, street course, and short oval events. So if an engine manufacturer didn’t have the optimal design as the 2015 season ended, the rules prohibit changes.

One of the ways to obtain ideas on how to improve your effort is to hire people away from winning teams. And, with the majority of the IndyCar team shops located in the Indianapolis area, it makes it very easy for personnel to change employers. 

RLLR hired Tom German who was Rossi’s engineer last season at Andretti and before that had over ten years at Team Penske.

“We brought on Tom German to help out on the engineering front with specialty projects, particularly because Indianapolis was such a struggle,” explained Rahal. “German brought with him a wealth of knowledge. German implemented some of the processes that say a Penske does in areas that we weren’t that strong. Even areas we actually thought we were, and he looked at and suggested a whole bunch of stuff, At Iowa I struggled with massive tire vibration issues the last couple years; I had no hope. Yet, he’s cured me of that. On the preparation side of things, German has already pinpointed things we need to do.

“My hope, as a Honda guy through and through, is that the engine can continue to improve and overcome what the aero kit lacks. There is no doubt that there are aero kit inefficiencies. It is a little bit tough going into a season knowing we’re going to have the same uphill battle we’ve had for the last couple years. I actually believe that Honda on the engine side is pretty strong and will continue to develop. Horsepower can overcome anything!”

Newgarden won on the shortest oval in 2016, the Iowa race. His engineer at ECR, Jeremy Milless (pictured), was recently hired to fill the vacancy at AA as Rossi’s engineer. Certainly, Ryan Hunter-Reay will appreciate his expertise after his struggles at Iowa last season.

“Eric Bretzman has been brought over from Ganassi’s NASCAR program (formerly Dixon’s IndyCar engineer) as Technical Director (of Andretti Autosport),” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2012 IndyCar champion. “He asked what our biggest complaint was and why we weren’t addressing it.

“We also have Jeremy from ECR. One track really threw us for a loop last year. We’ve always been very, very strong at Iowa. It just completely turned on its head for us last year. In the past, I knew exactly where to put the car, what I could do with the wheel over the bumps – what I could get away with, and the car would be forgiving. This past race every bump I went over was trying to turn the car around. It was almost terrifying to drive because it was only a matter of time before something bad would happen. I can’t say I was overly disappointed when the engine expired.

“We know the areas we need to improve in and we’ve been focusing on that this off-season. There’s no reason why we can’t win four or five races.”

Justin Taylor, coming from the Audi factory LMP1 sports car program, joined ECR as JR Hildebrand’s engineer. And, AJ Foyt Racing, switching to Chevy power, added Will Phillips, who previously served as IndyCar’s VP of Technology, to be Carlos Munoz’s engineer.

With testing limited to only four days, teams look for any means to become more competitive. Hiring engineers from other teams is one way to cross-pollinate the lessons learned and bring in new ideas. And, that’s what makes the IndyCar series so enjoyable to watch with its stiff competition and versatility challenge for both drivers and teams having to adapt to ovals – short and superspeedways, and the road and street courses.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Alexander Rossi Hoping For Better With Andretti in 2017

PHOENIX — Excluding his victory in the 100th Indianapolis 500, Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi summarized his rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series with one word — “horrible.”

Rossi, 25, finished the season 11th in the driver standings. He was the only Andretti racer to visit Victory Lane all of last year. But he believes the team will be better in 2017 because of personnel changes in the organization’s engineering department.

Longtime Chip Ganassi Racing technical director Eric Bretzman comes over as Andretti’s new technical director and former Ed Carpenter Racing engineer Jeremy Milless will work with Rossi’s team for the upcoming season.

“Eric was Scott [Dixon’s] engineer for about five or six years … my engineer now was Josef [Newgarden’s] engineer at Ed Carpenter the past couple of years,” Rossi told POPULAR SPEED. “They both bring a wealth of resources in terms of understanding the car. They know what Chevy was doing so hopefully we have more information than we had in the past couple of years.”

Rossi believes Team Penske will still be the cream of the crop in 2017 but also thinks Andretti will have enough speed to outrace Ganassi this season.

“We know there’s going to be a big battle going up against Penske, but our goal on the team this year is beat Ganassi,” Rossi said. “… Show our power and come out on top as a team and have a completely different year than we did last year.”

Now having a full year’s experience in IndyCar, Rossi said he’ll be better prepared for the upcoming campaign. He also said the addition of former A.J. Foyt Racing wheelman Takuma Sato would benefit Andretti’s atmosphere.

“We’re going to get to work in a week and a half in Phoenix and do a test, and I think that he’ll provide a lot of insight,” Rossi said. “I know he’ll bring a lot to the table from an approach perspective. He was one of the fastest Honda drivers last year. Anything that he can bring will be a positive boost to the whole team.”

Rossi called his Indy 500 win the “saving grace” of his first year in IndyCar. He is signed for three more years with Andretti and hopes a new aero package will improve his performance going forward.

“We have a lot to redeem ourselves from in 2017, and like I said, we’ve made positive steps,” he added. “We’ll have a very different package than what we had last year. We’ve put in a lot of effort, and hopefully, it shows in St. Pete.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Rossi Looks To Raise Resume Further

Unable to secure a full-time seat after an extended apprenticeship in Formula One, Nevada City, California’s Alexander Rossi tried his luck in North America’s top open-wheel racing option, the Verizon IndyCar Series, for 2016.

While it was far from a smashing performance, he certainly made his mark during his maiden season, using a clever strategy call from team boss Bryan Herta to win the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

After consistently running among the fastest drivers during the opening week of practice, only a last second effort from Mikhail Aleshin kept him from making the top-nine shootout for the pole position. Starting 11th, Rossi hovered around the top ten, while his four Andretti Autosport teammates controlled the proceedings at the head of the field. The final caution flag of the race, led to the critical move by Herta as the team elected to go into conservation mode to get to the front and stay there.

Now the question looking to the 2017 season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida in March is can Rossi match the output he posted at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Rossi’s Indy 500 sponsor NAPA Auto Parts believes such an effort is possible, as the American automotive store chain has extended its support from two events a year ago to seven for the No. 98 Honda team in 2017.

Although managing to run near the front was difficult for the former F-1 tester, Rossi was running at the finish in all but one of his 16 efforts. He also closed out last season, with two solid runs placing eighth at Watkins Glen and fifth at Sonoma, his best result outside of the Indy 500.

The opportunity to improve his placing in the Andretti Autosport quartet is also within the realm of possibility following the departure of two-time Indy 500 runner-up Carlos Munoz to A.J. Foyt Racing for 2017. While former Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay enters the new year as the most likely number one driver for Michael Andretti, the positions of Marco Andretti and new team member Takuma Sato are in question following frustrating 2016 campaigns for both. If Rossi can indeed break through his maximums from a year ago, he could jump two of his teammates on the points table, if not even manage to give RHR a run for his money likewise.

Stay tuned to Embury’s Outlook for further driver snapshots as the countdown to the new season continues.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News Open Wheel

IndyCar Reveals Hints About Its 2018 Car

There was good news, and then some not so good news. Indy Car’s President of Competition and Operations, Jay Frye, revealed that there is now a development freeze for the 2017 races, which is the not so good news. That means that huge performance gaps as there were in 2016 between the aero kits of Chevy and Honda will theoretically remain.

Frye was asked whether it means Chevrolet will once again be stronger than Honda this year, and responded in theory that’s correct, but added other factors can play a part. 

“Teams or manufacturers or whatever,” he said. “So it’s not — the aero kit was one piece of the puzzle. I think the puzzle has changed some going into ’17, but the aero piece of the kit, yes, is frozen for ’20’17.”   

But, moving on to 2018, Frye displayed some interesting concept drawings to give us an idea what the Dallara IR-12 will look like.  

Notably, the drivers got to see the drawings for the first time the fan did. Josef Newgarden, being one of the drivers at the show, was pleased with the results thus far.

“One of the things I really liked hearing from Jay is that what drivers have been screaming about for a long, long time is that we want more bottom side performance from the race car, we don’t want to rely on the top,” he commented. “You have to remember the racing product has been really, really good. It’s not like we’ve had a bad racing product. We have a great racing product. I think we just want to make it what you always want to make it. You’re always striving to make the car more difficult to drive, provide more separation in the talent of the drivers, and then make the racing product better. And I think that’s — the first thing that stands out to me, it’s kind of cool looking seeing the concepts of the side pods shrinking, the floor becoming a more prominent element, again, and then obviously there’s the Kardashian discussion of the rear. I think it looks really cool, and I’m excited to see more of it next week.”

Alexander Rossi sentiments matched his fellow competitor’s at the show, noting how he liked how prominent the floor was due to the bototm side downforce it will create. 

“For those of you that don’t understand the significance of that, it’s when we’re trying to follow closely and you get to this point where the racing kind of seems stagnant because nobody is really getting closer,” Rossi explained. “It’s because the car behind us is so affected because they are going over the top of it. It’s what we call dirty, meaning it’s moving, and it’s not a flat surface, which is what the car was designed in. When you’re relying on downforce coming from the bottom, you’re not affected by turbulence or dirty air because it’s irrelevant the state that the air is in when it hits the floor. So that part is massively encouraging.”

The next step in the development of the Dallara IR-12, whose Indy Car chassis first ran 20 years ago at the track at Walt Disney World, will be revealed at Indy Car’s Open Test at Phoenix International Raceway on February 10 – 11. This display will hopefully lead to a display of the 2018 car at the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 in May.

The 2017 Indy Car series will debut two months from now, at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.