Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2016 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Andretti Autosport

Andretti Autosport, despite being Honda's guinea pig and testing the manufactures' aero kit through the winter of 2014-15, found themselves chasing the field at the start of the 2015 season. No break went the team's way and it wasn't until a rainstorm in Detroit that the first rays of sunlight shined on the team. The team turned it around in the summer and found its old form before the season was out but the death of Justin Wilson casted a dark cloud over the turn around.

2015 Andretti Autosport Review
Wins: 3 (Belle Isle 1, Iowa, Pocono).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 3rd (Fontana, Sonoma).
Final Championship Positions: 6th (Ryan Hunter-Reay), 9th (Marco Andretti), 13th (Carlos Muñoz), 24th (Justin Wilson), 30th (Simona de Silvestro).

2016 Drivers:

Ryan Hunter-Reay
The American's 2015 season struggled to get going. Despite two top tens in the first four races, Hunter-Reay would find himself as low as 14th in the championship after struggling to catch at break in the months of May and June. However, he ended 2015 on a tear, winning two of the final four races and finishing second in the season finale. Hunter-Reay's late run vaulted him from 14th in the championship to sixth, his sixth consecutive season in the top ten of the championship.

Numbers to Remember: 
2,218- Laps completed in 2015, the most in IndyCar.

15- Starts from the 200-milestone. Hunter-Reay would become the 20th to reach it.

4- Consecutive top ten finishes. Hunter-Reay's longest stretch since his 2012 championship season.

1- One championship finish in the top five. That was his 2012 championship.

Hunter-Reay ended 2015 similarly to how he ended 2011. I think Hunter-Reay will win two races and find himself in the top five of the championship in 2016. Like all Honda drivers, any improvement in qualifying will seem to come down to the improvement in aero kits. A key for Hunter-Reay is to have a better start to the season. He has retired from at least one of the first three races of a season each of the last three years. If he can avoid putting himself in a hole early that could be crucial come late summer.

Marco Andretti
The third-generation driver had a solid season in 2015 with 11 top tens finishes. Andretti was also the top finishing Andretti Autosport driver in seven of 16 races and was the top Andretti Autosport qualifier five times. He completed every lap of the season until his accident on lap 139 of Pocono but he did recover to complete every lap at Sonoma. He finished ninth in the championship ahead of racer winners Sébastien Bourdais and Carlos Muñoz and ahead of Penske's Simon Pagenaud.

Numbers to Remember: 
76- Starts since Andretti's last victory. He went 77 starts from his first victory in Sonoma and second in Iowa.

990- Career laps led.

8.8- Andretti's average championship finish.

Andretti gets a victory this season and remains one of the most consistent drivers on the grid. However, I don't see him challenging for the title and with the depth of the IndyCar grid, one victory doesn't even guarantee a driver finishing top ten in the championship. I think he does finish in the top ten of the championship but no higher than seventh. A goal should be to score more top fives on road and street circuits.

Carlos Muñoz
The Colombian broke through and scored his first career victory in adverse condition in Detroit and that was the first step in the right direction for the team. While Muñoz was the first Andretti driver to win in 2015, he was stuck in the middle of the field for most of the season. On five occasions he failed to get out of the first round of qualifying on road and street courses. While the Honda aero kit didn't help, his average starting position for the entire season was 14.21, ahead of just six drivers who ran at least six races.

Numbers to Remember: 
37- Career starts and laps led.

39.13- Muñoz has finished in the top ten in 39.13% of his road/street course starts (9 for 23).

50- Muñoz has finished in the top ten in 50% of his ovals starts (7 for 14).

Muñoz needs to improve in qualifying and he needs to improve on road and street courses in general. He is impressive on ovals but he needs to take that aggressive to the road and street courses and be competing more in the top ten. I see Muñoz making a slight gain in 2015 but I think he will just miss out on the top ten in the championship.

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons commences with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13th. ABC's coverage of the race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.