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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

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

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 Partners with Shank for Harvey Entry

With each turn, the Indianapolis 500 entry list continues to grow with intrigue. Andretti Autosport added another chapter on Wednesday.

The multi-time Verizon IndyCar Series winning organization announced a partnership with Michael Shank Racing for Jack Harvey’s entry for the Indianapolis 500. Harvey will pilot the No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda/Dallara for the Greatest Spectacle in racing. 

Shank made the decision to partner with Andretti to be one of a few entering the Rolex 24 of Daytona, Le Mans 24 Hour, and the Indianapolis 500 through his career.

“It has been nearly 25 years since my wife Marybeth and I started this race team, so to have this opportunity finally come together—it is huge for us,” said Shank, who oversees the Acura NSX GT3 program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. “We have been working to find a way to race in the Indianapolis 500 for years, and I’m grateful that our relationships have developed to put us in this position. Ever since we joined the Honda family, we’ve been able to continue to grow as a team and this is a great example of that. We are very excited to be working with the defending champions, and Jack (Harvey) is a very promising talent so we are thrilled to have this opportunity.”  

While Mike Shank has focused on sports car racing in recent years, he competed as a driver in open-wheel, making one IndyCar start in 1997 before shifitng to an ownership role. He has been successful, winning the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona. 

As announced this past weekend, Harvey will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut after scoring two Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires victories in both the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Freedom 100 on his way to a 2015 runner-up in points.

“As everyone has read, the Month of May is going to be big for us. We’re really excited to be partnering with not only McLaren and Honda for Fernando Alonso, but also with Michael Shank Racing in a joint entry on the No. 50 for Jack Harvey,” said Michael Andretti. “Michael [Shank] and the partnership with his organization was instrumental in allowing us to run six cars in the 101st Indy 500. The six drivers and engineering teams will work closely together as we defend our win from 2016.”   

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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 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.