Even though Andretti Autosport had things going their way in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Ryan Hunter-Reay contending for victories the past couple season, their Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires program was faltering. Now with six rounds in the books, it appears the program is back on track.
“We have four talented drivers,” Michael Andretti said on Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We have two that are getting us wins. They’re going to be duking it out the rest of the year, so far.”
The organization came close to winning the championship in 2014, placing Zach Veach and Mathew Brabham third and fourth in the standings. Veach led the points through the first seven rounds boasting a pair of victories, though with only one win in season’s second half saw him drop two positions. Meanwhile, Brabham climbed his way back up after sitting ninth following the season-opener at St. Petersburg, with his season highlighted by a victory in the Indianapolis Road Course Race 1.
It was expected they would contend once again in 2015, but that didn’t happen, with the 2016 season also going down the pipes.
They fielded only one entry full-time in 2015 with Shelby Blackstock behind the wheel, placing 10th in the standings with a best finish of third at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. A year later, Blackstock failed to post a podium en route to finishing eighth in points. Dalton Kellett and Dean Stoneman also ran full-time, and although Stoneman won the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis, success was few and far between with Stoneman placing sixth in points and Kellett in 10th.
Now so far this season, they have two drivers currently in the top-three in points, with Nico Jamin second and Colton Herta third.
Jamin may have started off his season with a pair of finishes outside of the top-five at St. Petersburg, but he’s been doing an amazing job ever since. He scored his first career Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition in race one at Barber Motorsports Park, before finishing third in the second event. Indianapolis went well for him, as well, with a victory in round one followed by a fourth in race two.
“That’s what we’re aiming for,” Jamin said. “We want to do this season, win the championship. A win at Barber and a win here – we have momentum going on now.”
He enters the top series on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires after placing third in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires last season.
Herta came out of the gate fast right off the bat, with two wins and a runner-up in the first four races to enter Indianapolis with a 16-point lead. However, problems in both races for a pair of finishes outside the top-nine slipped him back to third. Even though success has come quickly, it’s mindful to remember Herta is a series rookie, and original intentions were to go with a two-year program by setting the ground work this year to win a title next season.
“To be honest, it was unexpected,” Herta said following Barber. “We were just going in there hoping just to get some top-five finishes, start the season off right, and get some points.”
Last year, Andretti Autosport won the Freedom 100 – but that was the only highlight of the campaign.
With success coming already, another victory on the first oval of 2017 would solidify their stance of being contenders all year-long.
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