Wednesday, October 19, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Andretti Autosport's 2016 Season

We covered one-fourth of the Andretti Autosport team on Tuesday. Here are the other three-quarters of the team.

Carlos Muñoz was the top Andretti Autosport driver in 2016 and his reward might be the door
Carlos Muñoz
The Colombian started his fourth season of IndyCar with an unimpressive eighth-place finish at St. Petersburg. Normally you say eighth is unimpressive if a driver was on top all weekend but Muñoz's pinball maneuver in turn three took out a few cars. At Phoenix, he had an accident in qualifying that forced him to start 21st and he would finish 22nd after an accident just prior to the halfway point. Long Beach was a good step forward for Muñoz as he started 10th and finished 12th. However, Long Beach was followed by a mediocre 15th at Barber.

An early spin in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis set Muñoz back but he recovered to finish 12th. On the oval, Muñoz started in the middle of the second row and while he didn't dominate the race like his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, he was up front all day and while some stretched fuel, Muñoz found himself as the front-runner of those who took a splash of fuel but he couldn't chase down Alexander Rossi and finished second in the Indianapolis 500 for the second time in his career. He followed his runner-up finish with another fifth-place start in the first Belle Isle race and he finished sixth. The second race he started 13th and finished 15th despite trying to go off-strategy.

He started and finished tenth at Road America, a race where he wasn't really a factor. At Iowa, Muñoz was just one of three Andretti cars mired in the back of the field but he finished 12th. He wasn't much of a factor at Toronto and a flat tire didn't help his day at all leaving him in 17th. After a rough July, Muñoz caught a break at Mid-Ohio where he pitted just before the Scott Dixon caution and vaulted himself up to the front of the field, where he would finish third.

Pocono was another really good day for Muñoz as he started fifth and ran in and around the top five all day but fell to seventh. He started on pole position for Texas and in June he led the first 37 laps but when the race restarted in August, Muñoz was never a factor but ended up finishing in seventh position. He didn't have the speed at Watkins Glen but went off strategy, led a few laps and ended up finishing 11th. He ended the season with an uninspiring 15th at Sonoma.

Carlos Muñoz's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 10th (432 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 7
Laps Led: 50
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 11.875
Average Finish: 10.8125

The 2016 season was another rough one for Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay
The American's 2016 season started much better than his 2015 season. He qualified fifth at St. Petersburg and ran at the front all day and ended up finishing third in what is his de facto home race. Phoenix doesn't look that great on paper as he finished 10th after starting 12th but he gained five positions on the start, made up two spots on every restarted and if it weren't for being caught on pit lane twice when cautions came, he would have had a top five and maybe a podium finish. At Long Beach, he qualified 11th but the setup sent him backward in the race and he ended up 18th. Ironically, he started 18th at Barber and finished 11th.

He went from 15th to 7th in the first turn at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis thanks to a few cars getting together and running wide. He ultimately settled for a ninth-place finish. Hunter-Reay was one of the top drivers the entire month of May and he started on the outside of the front row. He dominated in the race leading 52 of the first 120 laps but contact with teammate Townsend Bell while leaving the pit lane ended his hopes of a second Indianapolis 500 victory and he finished two laps down in 24th. He had a hard fought seventh in the first race at Belle Isle and he started second and finished third in the second race.

Hunter-Reay was around the top five all day at Road America and he was rewarded with a fourth-place finish. When the calendar turned to July, unlike 2015 where Hunter-Reay hit the ground running and made up ground, the bottom fell out. He had an engine failure at Iowa just a third of the way into the race. At Toronto, he started 18th, had contact with Charlie Kimball force a wing change, had to make another wing change and ended up finishing 12th. At Mid-Ohio, he started fourth, was in the top ten all day and the crew didn't get the car filled on the final pit stop, forcing Hunter-Reay to conserve and drop to 18th.

A practice accident at Pocono kept Hunter-Reay from qualifying and forced him to start 22nd. Despite the set back he charged to the lead by lap 49 and was a contender until he hit a glitch just within the final 100 miles of the race. He fell a lap down but a caution and a wave around got him back on the lead lap and he went from 12th to third in the final 20 laps. He was in position for a top ten at Watkins Glen but like Mid-Ohio had to save fuel and dropped to 14th. He qualified sixth at Sonoma and was in the top ten all race before finishing fourth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 12th (428 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 3
Top Fives: 5
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 97
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 11.875
Average Finish: 10.9375

Marco Andretti's 2016 season wasn't much to brag about
Marco Andretti
I am going to be frank on Marco Andretti because it wasn't a great year. It wasn't a terrible year and I am not a part of the mob who thinks Andretti should be banished from IndyCar because at 29 years old (yeah, he isn't even 30 yet) he hasn't lived up to a segment's expectations that he would be a mix of his grandfather and father.

He had a really good run at St. Petersburg as he went from 14th to eighth early only to lose it all in an ambitious move on Luca Filippi and that kind of set the precedent for his season. After that 15th-place finish in the opener, he started 11th and finished 13th at Phoenix as he couldn't break into the top ten and pass cars like Hunter-Reay. He finished 19th after starting last at Long Beach. He went from 19th to 12th at Barber.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis saw another 19th-place start and another 15th-place finish. In the Indianapolis 500, Andretti started 14th but was in the top ten for a good chunk of the race before a pit stop where the team put right side tires on the left side and left side tires on the right and caused him to fall like a rock as all he could do was hold on because the balance was off. He recovered for a 13th-place finish. He was not a factor in the first Belle Isle race as he finished 16th but went from 22nd to ninth in the second race.

Road America saw him go 21st to 12th. At Iowa, he started 19th and finished 14th and he went from 22nd to tenth at Toronto after being in the right spot when the caution came out for Josef Newgarden's accident. Mid-Ohio was another race where Andretti started on the 11th row and he finished 13th. He had three consecutive 12th-place finishes at Pocono, Texas and Watkins Glen. Sonoma was the location of his best finish of the season, eighth-place from 14th on the grid.

Andretti was running at the finish of every race and completed 2,062 of 2,070 laps.

Marco Andretti's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 16th (339 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 3
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 17.5
Average Finish: 12.8125

This wasn't a great season for Andretti Autosport and I don't think the 1-2 finish at Indianapolis 500 makes up for it all that much. It wasn't a terrible season when you consider how poor Honda was and Andretti Autosport had three of the top four Honda drivers. Carlos Muñoz appears to be on his way out and while that is unfortunate, sometimes that is how sports works. How many times have coaches come off a good season or had a stretch of playoff appearances and still get fired? Muñoz has a place in IndyCar and in someway he should be at Andretti Autosport in 2017 but a move for him could be beneficial.

You have to think Andretti Autosport will rebound. It is hard to believe Ryan Hunter-Reay will go winless for a second consecutive season. The team has brought in some big names on the engineering side with Eric Bretzman moving over from Chip Ganassi Racing's NASCAR operation and Jeremy Milless moving over from Ed Carpenter Racing. They have also lost some big names as Craig Hampson reunites with Sébastien Bourdais at Dale Coyne Racing and Tom German might also be moving to a new team for 2017. It is a lame-duck season with the aero kit development freezing and the universal kit being introduced in 2018 but maybe the new technical team at Andretti Autosport can find the speed to get the cars to the front.

Who could jump in and get results right away for Andretti Autosport? Conor Daly had a good rookie season. Juan Pablo Montoya is still out there but I think he doesn't want to take his chances with a Honda team unless it is the familiar surroundings of Chip Ganassi Racing (remember, Andretti Autosport was reportedly the first team interested in bringing Montoya to IndyCar for 2014). Takuma Sato is out there but maybe you take a pass regardless of how much money he brings. J.R. Hildebrand has done nothing but jump into a car and gotten results since being dubiously sacked by Panther Racing in the middle of 2013, plus Hildebrand would probably have some experience working with Milless.

The key thing for Andretti Autosport is not to overthink it because that seems to be what the team has done the last two seasons.