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Andretti Autosport Sticks with Honda

After a myriad of rumors swirled throughout the past month, things are not changing at Andretti Autosport as they will once again be powered by Honda in 2018 and beyond, as part of a multi-year agreement.

The news was revealed on Thursday through a video on social media.

“It’s no secret that we’ve been weighing this decision for a while now,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “We’ve had strong relationships and have marked milestones with both manufacturers, but we’re pleased to continue our Honda partnership. We have a great history of success with Honda and I have no doubt that together, our collection of achievements will continue to grow.”

Last month, talks started that there was a possibility of the pair separating, despite winning three Verizon IndyCar Series championships and five Indianapolis 500s together. Discussion only picked up more once it was leaked that Takuma Sato may leave AA to drive a second-car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, as Sato has always been associated with Honda-only teams. 

The rumors are understandable with the organization failing to reach expectations, with only one victory in 15 races this year, and Alexander Rossi the highest-ranked driver in points, currently seventh. 

“We’re extremely happy to continue our successful partnership with Michael Andretti and Andretti Autosport,” said Art St. Cyr, President, Honda Performance Development. “As Michael stated, his team has played a major role in our success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including victories at three of the last four Indy 500s. In addition to success at Indianapolis, 47 of Honda’s 225 Indy car victories through the years have been scored by the Andretti Autosport. Together, we’re looking forward to adding to this already impressive total in the future.”

With only two races remaining in 2017, the team has signed Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti for next year, with confirmation forth coming surrounding the “remaining drivers in the coming weeks.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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

Your Ultimate Verizon IndyCar Series Silly Season Guide

It always seems as if the landscape adjusts itself in the world of auto racing every single year and looking ahead to 2018, the Verizon IndyCar Series appears to be no different.

The bank opened during Mid-Ohio action last week when questions were raised about the future engine choice at Andretti Autosport. Team owner Michael Andretti admitted that talks between Chevrolet exist, but did not go further in detail. The situation at AA is iffy at best. While their relationship with Honda has netted them three Indianapolis 500 victories in the past four years, the four-car squad is low on funding. At this point, only two cars have secure sponsorships. DHL is paired with Ryan Hunter-Reay, while NAPA Auto Parts backs Alexander Rossi for a majority of the 17 events. Beyond that, support for the entries of Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato is sketchy.

While an infusion of money is always a plus in today’s cash happy state of the sport, there are consequences to such a move. While Marco Andretti and Hunter-Reay are secure for the foreseeable years ahead, the presence of Honda is part of the tie-in for both Sato and Rossi. If Chevy is the future course, one seat if not two suddenly become available.

Outside of Andretti, things elsewhere are also on the somewhat unstable ground. Here is a look at the potential scenarios.

 

TEAM PENSKE: Josef Newgarden (Probable), Simon Pagenaud (Probable), Will Power (Probable), Helio Castroneves (Indy 500 only, Probable), Juan Pablo Montoya (Indy 500 only, Probable)

No confirmations just yet on who will drive Penske’s IMSA program with Honda, but the pairing of Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya looks to be the ultimate climax at this point. With the Brazilian out of the picture, insider information suggests that the team will only enter three full-time entries for 2018, while still running five for the Indy 500, providing cars to both the Colombian and the popular veteran for as long as they wish.

 

CHIP GANASSI RACING: Scott Dixon (Probable), Max Chilton (Questionable), Charlie Kimball (Questionable), Tony Kanaan (Unlikely)

With NTT Data potentially scaling back its support for 2018, the severing of ties between Ganassi and Tony Kanaan may occur this off-season. Not only has the 2013 Indy 500 champion’s performance dropped off in 2017, but just managing to outpace Chilton and Kimball on a regular basis has also become a challenge.

With Dixon likely to continue, the question looms on the future for CGR’s third and fourth pilots. Chilton and his backing from Gallagher Investments have been linked to a potential new team under the direction of Trevor Carlin, with whom the Englishman drove for in the Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires circuit. With Novo Nordisk reportedly also peeling back a little on its support of Kimball, the American could join up with both Carlin and Chilton likewise.

If all these scenarios play out, Ganassi may scale back to three cars like his counterpart Penske likely will also. While options are few and far between at this point, keep in mind that Esteban Gutierrez is out there. The Mexican ex-Formula One chauffeur is bankrolled by Carlos Slim, whose Telcel brand sponsored Ganassi for several seasons in the former Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series. Could a possible rejoin be in play? Stay tuned.

 

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: Ryan Hunter-Reay (Probable), Marco Andretti (Probable), Alexander Rossi (Questionable), Takuma Sato (Questionable)

If the switch back to Chevrolet engines for 2018 is on, Takuma Sato is on the market looking ahead to the new season. Honda has provided backing to the reigning Indy 500 champion, dating back to his tenure in Formula One. The same story could also ring true for Alexander Rossi, who reportedly also enjoys some support from the manufacturer.

With both players out, Andretti could be forced to rely on financially backed drivers to fill the openings. Looking ahead to next year, only Ryan Hunter-Reay is fully sponsored via DHL. Marco Andretti has had a myriad of different names on his car in 2017, mainly forced by the collapse of original backer H-H Gregg.

Crazy rumors have hinted that the team might make a run at current McLaren F1 pilot Fernando Alonso for a full-time seat, but it would likely take a massive injection of money from GM to make that even within a breath of reality. Of course, no one expected the Spaniard to take a stab at this year’s Indy 500, so maybe, maybe not.

 

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING: Graham Rahal (Probable), ?? (Possible)

Bobby Rahal and his son Graham have desired to expand to two cars full-time and ironically the Andretti engine change might allocate that opportunity. If Sato is out of luck, Honda will be quick to offer any of its other teams a shot at the Japanese veteran and RLLR might just step up. While Rahal personally has shown a preference for having Oriol Servia as a teammate, the addition of Taku to the fold offers more money in the till looking ahead for this operation.

 

SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS: James Hinchcliffe (Probable), Mikhail Aleshin (Unlikely)

With Hinch possibly in the mix for a possible ride with Ganassi or even a return to his former home at Andretti, Schmidt may be forced to play a waiting game looking ahead to 2018. Though if the Canadian stays put, then the focus shifts to the team’s second seat. Financial issues with backer SMP crept up on Mikhail Aleshin again in 2017, forcing him to miss the action at Toronto.

Assuming the Russian is not part of the plans for 2018, Arrow Electronics could be called upon to sponsor both entries. If that is in the cards, Indy Lights veteran Santiago Urrutia, who is also supported by Arrow, could become a target. As could Sato and/or Alexander Rossi with additional backing from Honda being added to the deal.

 

DALE COYNE RACING: Sebastien Bourdais (Probable), Ed Jones (Questionable)

With Bourdais back in the saddle testing a Coyne entry following the Mid-Ohio race weekend, all signs point to the Frenchman continuing on with the Chicago-based operation in 2018. The concern shifts to Jones, who’s had a decent rookie season with the team, but will be without the scholarship money he had in hand after the Indy Lights title in 2016. With his Dubai connections, however, money to cover the expenses might not be too hard to come by. Of course, it could be tough to match the financials that Carlos Slim-supported pilot Esteban Gutierrez could provide.

If Coyne reverts back to the ride goes to the highest bidder philosophy, he carried before this year, then Jones might be looking elsewhere for employment in 2018.

 

ED CARPENTER RACING: Ed Carpenter (Ovals Only, Probable), Spencer Pigot (Road Courses Only, Possible), J.R. Hildebrand (Probable)

It’s been a tough year for the Speedway, Indiana club, that is if you discount their performance on oval tracks. Driving duties are not expected to change for 2018 unless Pigot heads elsewhere looking for full-time service.

 

HARDING RACING: Gabby Chaves (Probable)

The Indianapolis-based newcomers are expected to join the full-time roster next season with Gabby Chaves at the controls. No other changes are expected, but the team could require more funding to make their dream a reality.

 

A.J. FOYT RACING: Carlos Munoz (Possible), Conor Daly (Possible)

2017 has been a frustrating season for both Munoz and Daly, who each were expected to provide a boost to Super Tex’s fortunes. With neither placing better than seventh in any event to date, the question of whether either driver stays is unknown. If anyone bolts, the most likely would be the Colombian who just missed out on an Indy 500 victory in 2016. With no other options in play, the Indiana resident may stick with Foyt as they fully relocate its operations to the Indianapolis area.

If Munoz leaves, Tony Kanaan could become a target if he is dropped by Ganassi.

 

JUNCOS RACING: ???

Ricardo Juncos’ Indy Lights operation moved up to IndyCar competition to field two cars at this year’s Indianapolis 500. The ultimate goal is to run full-time with at least one car next season. If Spencer Pigot is looking for a full-time ride in 2018, Juncos could be his lone opportunity. The American prospect drove for the squad in 2015, the same year he won the Indy Lights title. Juncos’ other Indy 500 pilot Sebastian Saavedra could also be sought here. 

Question now is  where will 2017 Indy Lights title contender Kyle Kaiser fits in? The young gun was a candidate for the Indy 500 seat as well until the team settled on Pigot and Saavedra. However, if Kaiser does win the Lights championship, the one million dollar advancement bonus that goes with it could shift momentum into his corner.

 

CARLIN RACING: ???

After backing out from possibly taking over the now defunct KV Racing team last year, Trevor Carlin is believed to be exploring entering the circuit on his own in 2018. The key cog here is Max Chilton and possibly a second driver with some money in hand.

 

DREYER & REINBOLD RACING: Sage Karam (Indy 500 Only, Possible)

Unless things are dramatically altered, expect Dennis Reinbold to field an Indy 500 entry, possibly for Sage Karam or another driver in 2018.

 

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

Andretti Earns “Refreshing” First Top-Five In 2017

Without question, Marco Andretti has struggled over the past two Verizon IndyCar Series seasons.

After failing to post a single top-five in his last 32 starts, the third-generation pilot took advantage of the same early pit strategy used by eventual winner Josef Newgarden in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto to move into contention following the second full course caution of the race caused by Tony Kanaan. While he was unable to catch Newgarden, his teammate Alexander Rossi, nor James Hinchcliffe in the remaining laps, Andretti held on to finish fourth.

“It’s just refreshing,” said Andretti to POPULAR SPEED on Sunday. “It would’ve been nice to get a trophy, but we’re one short of that.”

The previous two years have been a trying period for the 30-year old veteran. After placing in the top-ten on the championship points table in eight of his first ten seasons, including a career-best fifth in 2013, the Pennsylvania-native plummeted to 16th in 2016, ending up no better than eighth in any race. Entering Sunday’s action at Exhibition Place, Andretti’s top showing was a sixth at the conclusion of an attrition-influenced race at Texas Motor Speedway.

“It’s a start for me to put the fun back into the sport.” said the No. 26 Honda pilot. “I had a really good balanced car today, (it’s about) trying to get some podiums, get some wins, and put some more hardware in the trophy case.”

The sight for Andretti’s best performance to date is fitting that it is in Toronto. The famous racing family has greatly influenced the event since its debut in the CART championship back in 1986. Marco’s father Michael won at Exhibition Place a record seven times. Dad’s also played a role in maintaining the race, having served as a promoter when action returned following a hiatus in 2008 following the reunification of North American open-wheel competition. Although Andretti is no longer directly involved in overseeing the Honda Indy Toronto, the success enjoyed was not diminished on Sunday.

Ashley McCubbin contributed to this report.

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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

EMBURY: Sato Tops Mixed Day For Andretti Squad

In a plot that almost played out exactly like last year’s Indianapolis 500, Andretti Autosport has secured their second-straight win.

The team’s No. 26 entry, which finished second last year with Carlos Munoz at the controls, was able to grab the brass ring on Sunday as Takuma Sato held off a furious charge by Helio Castroneves to cross the finish line first.

“Unbelievable feeling. I cannot thank this whole team (enough),” said Sato in victory circle.

Beginning his quest for glory from the fourth position on the starting grid, the former Formula One veteran ran with his teammates upfront through the first 200 miles, only to drop back near the halfway point following a slow pit stop. Almost out of the top twenty, the Japanese veteran rejoined the fight during the final forty laps, eventually jumping to second place on lap 180.

When Castroneves was finally able to get past a persistent Max Chilton for the lead seven laps from the conclusion, Sato quickly jumped back to the runner-up position and then overtook the Brazilian with four laps to go. The three-time Indy 500 champion would take a final shot at Sato on the penultimate circuit in turn one, but came up short.

Even as triumph was close to reality the aggressive veteran was not taking success for granted.

“You really didn’t know (until the end),” said Sato. “Me and Helio went side-by-side (late in the race). You’ve got to go for it, and we did.”

The win for Sato is his second in Verizon IndyCar Series competition, ending a four-year run without a trip to victory lane.  His last triumph was at the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The performance also avenges a heartbreaking defeat suffered in the 2012 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, when Sato showed the way for most of the event’s second half before a lastlap pass for the win against Dario Franchitti resulted in contact with the turn one SAFER barrier.

His boss Michael Andretti also voiced his approval on his recruit’s showing.

“(Takuma) is awesome!” said Andretti afterwards. “We work really, really hard (on the Indy 500). (The team) got this win as well as Takuma.”

For the rest of the Andretti operation, Sunday was a day of missed opportunities. Defending race winner Alexander Rossi was among the top-three for the opening 130 laps, before a problem with fueling the car on his next-to-last pit stop dropped him to the back of the pack. Despite a major surge in the late stages, the NAPA Auto Parts Honda driver came home in seventh.

“Two years in a row to have fuel problems is pretty tough to swallow,” Rossi admitted following Sunday’s race. “Obviously, it worked last year, but you can’t rely on not fueling the car and getting results.”

Rossi was not alone in his pacesetting duties on Sunday, as two teammates contributed to the early control at the point. For the second straight year, Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared set to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The DHL Honda chauffeur climbed from tenth to first in just under eighty laps, looking to have the only car capable of breaking free from the main pack. However, scenarios out of his control would deny him once again. On Lap 140, the 2014 Indy victor pulled onto the turn three warm-up lane, with smoke trailing from his machine. Reliability concerns attached to the Honda engines in the days before the green flag proved correct as the veteran was tagged with a 27th-place result.

“It’s frustrating to end your day like that, especially when you have a good car like that,” Hunter-Reay relented after dropping out. “It’s two years in a row that Andretti Autosport has given me a car to win this race, and it’s two years in a row that circumstances outside our control have taken us out. ”

Malfunctioning power plants would also ruin an outstanding debut from ex-World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso. Showing a willingness to complete passes on the outside, the Spaniard was able to quiet any skeptics by running among the frontrunners, until becoming a victim of both iffy pit work and bad luck. The slow stop under caution mired the newcomer in traffic, where a low downforce strategy curbed his early muscle. Eventually the No. 29 Honda ground to a halt twenty laps from the full distance in  24th-place.

“It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500,” said Alonso. “One lap you put on the lead there, it was already a nice feeling. I was passing, watching the tower, saw the 29 on top of it.”

While the Andretti curse was not to blame for his shortcomings on Sunday, Marco Andretti failed to make a significant impact from beginning to end and settled for eighth.

“We definitely missed on it,” the younger Andretti explained. “I had a pretty lucky day; I got through some big wrecks. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the car (to challenge for the win).”

Jack Harvey’s first foray at the Brickyard came to a halt just before the 70-lap mark as he was collected in Conor Daly’s turn three crash and placed 31st.

“There was a whole bunch of debris on the track – I hit some of it and the car spun,” said Harvey. “Everyone is trying to slow down so quickly and trying to then dodge the debris. I was slowing down and trying to avoid everything, so I don’t know what else I could have done at that point.”

Using the strength in numbers plan successfully, Andretti leaves the corner of 16th and Georgetown with another assortment of stories but reached its goal: putting another visage from their team on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

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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

EMBURY: Surprises Among Firestone Fast Nine Advancees

In a day preceded by thunderstorms, Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway produced several surprises.

For instance, all three members of last year’s Indianapolis 500 front row, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, failed to make the Firestone Fast Nine. Four-time pole winner Helio Castroneves was also not fast enough. In their place, was a plethora of Honda-powered entries and some unexpected Chevrolets.

Regaining the form he showed in winning Indy 500 pole awards in 2013 and 2014, Indianapolis-native Ed Carpenter topped the pole shootout list with an impressive four-lap average of 230468 MPH. The local hero will be joined in the final qualifying round by teammate J.R. Hildebrand, who also posted a strong 230 plus effort.

Amazingly, despite entering five cars this month, Team Penske will feature only one entrant in Sunday’s showdown. Will Power, who was the only member of the Captain’s quintet to post a 230 MPH lap this week without a draft, backed up the early returns to make the cut. The rest though, faded, as conditions changed. Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud only managed a 228, as did Josef Newgarden. Juan Pablo Montoya was likewise stuck at 228, while Castroneves’ 229.3 MPH run also was not among the fast nine.

Beyond ECR, the other big winners Saturday were Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.

Two-thirds of the way through the original order, Ganassi had four cars in the final phase. Despite Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball getting bumped, the team has two excellent shots at the top spot in veterans Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon, who have earned a combined three poles at the Brickyard.

Meanwhile, Andretti Autosport stands at an equal level of opportunity with former Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso leading the charge. The Spanish newcomer to IndyCar racing will be joined by reigning Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato, and Marco Andretti, who secured the final spot to advance to the Firestone Fast Nine.

Unfortunately, the shootout will be missing one notable driver as Sebastien Bourdais suffered a serious accident in turn two during his attempt. After running two laps above 231 MPH, the Frenchman made heavy contact with the SAFER barrier sending his Dale Coyne Racing Honda into a flip before coming to a stop right side up. The veteran was transferred to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis where he was awake and alert.

The surprises were not limited to the nine finalists. On a layout where an early draw is viewed as an advantage, the late runners vaulted forward as Saturday’s action went beyond the usual 6 p.m. track closing to allow everyone a chance to perform. Also with only a limited number of drivers taking the track during the Saturday morning warm-up, many competitors were forced to take to the circuit and run at their maximum for the first time in about 24 hours, placing an even greater set of unknowns to the common stack during time trials weekend.

With many curveballs thrown on Saturday, expect more of them to come on Sunday.

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

Pigot Overcomes Issues To Post Top-Ten

The Verizon IndyCar Series results do not always tell the whole story for some drivers.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s road-course specialist Spencer Pigot can attest to this, having run competitively in each of the four events he has contested in 2017. Unfortunately, misfortune has stunted his outputs. A suspension failure on a pit stop ended his day in St. Petersburg and a mechanical malady brought his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet to a halt in Alabama.

However, the racing gods were more accepting toward the 2015 Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion, as despite suffering from pit trouble early, he rebounded to finish Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix in ninth place.

Initial charges through the field have been standard for the second-year IndyCar pilot. Pigot has qualified no better than 13th in any of his four efforts to date, Beginning Saturday’s race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the ECR driver needed only three laps to jump into the topten. The California-native was able to take advantage of the dangerous turn one and gained further ground when Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti collided at the end of the Hulman Boulevard straight.

Entering the opening pit sequence, Pigot was looking like a threat to earn a top-five possibly. Then came the stall out, and the road course ace fell to 12th-place. Forced into aggressive mode for the remainder of the 85 laps, the Fuzzy’s-backed runner charged back into the upper half of the field during the remaining stints. One of the highlights was a forceful pass on James Hinchcliffe on the Hulman straight.

With a pair of top-tens on his resume, Pigot switches over to Juncos Racing for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. The change of teams, reunites both halves of the 2015 Indy Lights championship winners. The Californian made his IndyCar oval debut last year at the Brickyard, finishing 25th.

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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

Andretti Autosport Bounces Back at IndyCar GP

They did not threaten Team Penske’s two rabbits on Saturday; however, Andretti Autosport has momentum entering the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Led by 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, they managed to place two of its entrants in the top-ten in the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

For RHR, Saturday’s third-place result was his best outing since placing fourth in the seasonopener at St. Petersburg.

“We’ve had a pretty tricky beginning of the year I guess you could say,” said Hunter-Reay after the checkered flag. “It’s been one thing or another, really. Some misfortune, bad luck. Some we brought upon ourselves, but it’s been one thing or another.”

Starting eighth, the DHL Honda pilot quietly ran among the top-ten throughout the 85 laps, but was able to avoid the errors that hampered others. Ultimately, the veteran was able to secure a place on the podium overtaking Penske’s Helio Castroneves.

“Helio’s strategy didn’t end up working out for him in the end because he was on primaries at the end; kind of a sitting duck for us that had pace on (optional tires),” explained Hunter-Reay.

Defending Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi also enjoyed a solid weekend at the Brickyard, running as high as sixth, before settling for eighth at the conclusion.

“We had a really good start, but we chose the wrong downforce level,” said Rossi. “We got it balanced out on the last stint, but it was too late to run up the (leaderboard).”

While the NAPA Auto Parts Honda driver was without any significant maladies during Saturday’s action, the former Formula One test driver struggled during the long green flag stints, eventually losing some spots.

Although the results for Hunter-Reay and Rossi were a far cry from the team’s massive breakdowns at Long Beach and Phoenix, Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato proved there are still some kinks in the armor.

Having to start at the back of the grid on Saturday, Sato never had a signficiant impact, but gained twelve positions to come home 12th.

“It was a tough race, but I think we fought back quite strongly,” said Sato. “We’ve got good momentum for the Indianapolis 500, and I’m looking forward to starting practice on Monday.”

Andretti’s hopes were dashed when he came into contact with Tony Kanaan on the opening lap, a move stewards judged as avoidable and the third-generation driver was issued a drive-through penalty. Mired near at the tail of the order from that point, Andretti posted a 16th-place result. The 2006 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, later apologized to Kanaan on Twitter for the shunt, claiming he was more focused on his rear-view mirrors, than he what was ahead of him.

“Wasn’t the way I would have liked to have started the race,” admitted Andretti. “I knocked into TK, and it was an uphill battle from there. I ruined both our races.”

Andretti Autosport’s effort expands from four cars to six when IMS converts to its traditional 2.5mile oval layout on Monday. Joining the regular drivers will be multi-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso and Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires veteran Jack Harvey.

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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

Bourdais, Aleshin Among Drivers Caught in Lap 1 Crash

On Saturday night at Phoenix Raceway, five drivers saw their race over before it truly began following a wreck on the opening lap in Turn 1.

Going into the corner, Mikhail Aleshin lost control of his No. 7 Honda, spinning around which left nowhere to go for the competitors behind him.

“Unfortunately, when we got to Turn 1, I felt the rear of the car went, and I just couldn’t do anything,” he said. “I was (a) full lock, and I just understood that that was it. I feel sorry for the guys that hit as well, but that’s racing. Very sorry to my Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team and everyone that works on the No. 7 because I think the guys did a fantastic job. Sometimes situations like this happen, but we’ll keep moving forward.”

One of the drivers caught up in the incident was Sebastien Bourdais entered the event as the points leader, but now sits fourth in points following a 19th place finish.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “We work so hard and try to do things right. We had a good position at the start, being on the outside, and I could’ve probably picked up one or two positions because I had a good run going. But then all it takes is someone who takes a little bit too much risk to ruin your day. You can take risks when you’re on the outside all alone, but if you’re in the middle, in the gearbox of the car in front of you, there’s a good chance that you’ll lose the car. It’s disappointing to lose the points lead like this, I knew we would lose it this weekend, but we’re missing out on some precious points. Plus, there’s a lot of damage to the car, and we didn’t need that.”

Also collected in the aftermath was Marco Andretti, Max Chilton, and Graham Rahal. It continues their struggles as they each sit outside the top-15 in points following four races. Notably, Chilton has failed to post a top-10 finish in his sophomore campaign for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“There was just nowhere to go really,” Chilton said. “I was sort of tensing because I knew four-wide on the start on a short oval wasn’t good. It was just one of those things. I hate going out on Lap 1, but I just spun to avoid the accident and got collected. Hopefully, we can get a better result with the Gallagher car in Indy next month.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Misfortunes Continue for Hunter-Reay and Andretti

As Alexander Rossi drove through the field to secure a top-five finish in the Grand Prix of Alabama, two of his Andretti Autosport teammates weren’t as lucky with misfortunes biting them.

Marco Andretti’s problems started right from the get-go as his No. 27 Honda Dallara was stuck in first gear, requiring a trip down pit road. He’d go down multiple laps, before being able to start the race, en route to finishing 21st. Andretti had hopes of a good finish as a result of leading Friday’s practice, and Sunday’s warm-up.

Ryan Hunter-Reay started the event up front but found trouble quickly as he and James Hinchcliffe made contact in Turn 2 on Lap 1, causing a piece of RHR’s front wing to rip off. A caution came out for debris a lap later, with Hunter-Reay pitting for repairs. He was able to rebound to an 11th-place finish.

For a pair of drivers who were hopeful for 2017 after top-seven finishes at St. Petersburg, the past couple races haven’t gone their way. Neither finished the Grand Prix of Long Beach as a result of mechanical problems in the late stages.

The problems are a continuation of 2016 it seems as both Andretti and Hunter-Reay struggled in 2016. Andretti only posted one top-10 finish all year as Hunter-Reay posted five top-fives along with four finishes outside the top-15.

Andretti Autosport posted only one top-10 last year at Phoenix Raceway, with Hunter-Reay 10th. Being able to have their cars up front this weekend could be crucial to carrying momentum into Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month when they enter six cars into the Indianapolis 500, including Fernando Alonso.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Marco Andretti: Qualifying is Critical to Barber Success

Coming off a disappointing run at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Marco Andretti topped the second practice on Friday at Barber Motorsports Park with a lap of 1 minute, 7.7134 seconds (122.280 mph).

Andretti knows heading into Saturday’s qualifying session it will be important to back-up the lap and start well in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

“We just need to do it when it counts tomorrow,” he said. “You know, it’s very important to qualify well here, so I’m pleased that we have the pace to hopefully be able to do that. But yeah, I mean, so far, so good. We just need to replicate it tomorrow.”

Previously, passing has been at a premium on the 17-turn road course, with only about four good opportunities to make moves happen. Andretti has been in the back half previously before, starting outside the top-10 the past two years.

“The only way to do it is to get like a start like I had last year, passed like nine cars on the first lap. But you need a lot of luck for that to happen, as well. That’s not the way we want to do it,” he said. “We want to be able to control the race and hopefully start up there because that would definitely make my Sunday easier.”

Though laying down the quickest lap for a pole isn’t something done so easily.

“The balance here is finding the balance between the high and low-speed corners because a lot of things that help you in some corners hurt you in others, so it’s tough to get the best of both,” he said. “We have a pretty good handle on that right now.”

Andretti knows he could use a good run this weekend as following a seventh at St. Petersburg, electrical results in Long Beach saw him not finish. This week could be the perfect spot for a turnaround with three top-fives previously at Barber, and only two finishes outside the top-10 in seven starts.

As a team, Andretti Autosport needs a good run, though, as Andretti wasn’t the only DNF.  Each of their four entries failed to finish with a mechanical problem. As a whole, though, they’ve proven to have pace in Alabama previously based on Ryan Hunter-Reay scoring back-to-back wins in 2013 and 2014.

Past success did not translate to results last year with no top-10’s among their four drivers, but Andretti isn’t worried.

“I think our cars are a lot better than 2016 here,” he said. “Actually, so far this year, knock on wood. But particularly here, we had a decent test in 2016, then came back and lost pace for the race weekend. But what I like about it is we had a good test and we came back for the race weekend and the car was still good. That always shows you that we’re in the ballpark, and now we just need to stay there.”

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