Tuesday, October 18, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Andretti-Herta Autosport's 2016 Season

The midway point of IndyCar team reviews looks at the partnership between Andretti Autosport and Bryan Herta Autosport. The 11th-hour, shotgun wedding got Alexander Rossi on the IndyCar grid. It ended up being a beautiful friendship and one of the few bright spots for a team that had a trying year and probably didn't get the results they were looking for.

Alexander Rossi's rookie year wasn't that bad
Alexander Rossi
The California-native moved to IndyCar from Formula One and Manor Marussia F1. His debut was a run of the mill debut. He started 18th but kept his nose out of harms way and worked his way to 12th, the top rookie finisher. Phoenix was his first oval race and he was in contention for a top ten finish until he had to stop to top off for fuel and then brushed the barriers exiting turn four to bring out the final caution of the race and dropping him to 14th. Long Beach was a terrible race for all the Andretti cars and Rossi was the worst of the four in 20th. He had a great start at Barber but faded to 15th.

His first month of May started with an impressive run in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Rossi forced Will Power into a mistake that caused the Australian to spin off track. He would finish tenth and pick up fastest lap of the race on his way to his first career top ten finish. We all remember Rossi's incredible conservation run to victory in the Indianapolis 500 but he was respectably fast all month and started 11th, he ran fastest lap in the race and probably ran the slowest green flag lap as well. The following week he needed to conserve fuel again just to finish tenth at Belle Isle. In the second race of the doubleheader he finished 12th.

Rossi was quick at Road America but a caution in qualifying forced him to start 16th and contact in the race forced him to change his front wing and instead of a top ten finish, he finished 15th. At Iowa, Rossi carried the Andretti flag and went from 17th to sixth with the help from some cautions. Toronto was a rough weekend for Rossi where he didn't feature much, started 19th and finished 16th. Rossi made the second round of qualifying for the first time in his career at Mid-Ohio but couldn't pick up the pace in the race and finished 14th.

He started seventh at Pocono and was running at the front until he, Charlie Kimball and Hélio Castroneves came together in the pit lane ruining all three of their races and ending Rossi's chance of doubling down on 500-mile race victories in his rookie season. Rossi's car was a bucking bronco at Texas but he held on and finished 11th. Rossi worked his way into the top ten at Watkins Glen after starting 15th and had to conserve fuel again but finished eighth. He had his best starting position on a road/street course at Sonoma in eighth and jumped into the top five early. He would have finished fourth had he not ran out of fuel coming to the start/finish line and only to drop to fifth but he was comfortable took the honor of Rookie of the Year.

Alexander Rossi's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 11th (430 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 6
Laps Led: 23
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 14.375
Average Finish: 11.8125

If Andretti Autosport can pick up its game in 2017, I am really looking forward to seeing what Rossi can do. He did everything we expected from him in his rookie season. He had a handful of top tens, he had a few really good races, he ended up on the cusp of a top ten finish in the championship and he ended up winning the Indianapolis 500. He improved throughout the season and a second year on all these tracks in hopefully an improve car could see him definitely in the top ten of the championship if not in the championship discussion.

For a driver who expressed trepidation of racing on ovals, Rossi looked like a guy who grew up on them. He did really well at Phoenix and if you forget the victory for a second and just look at what Rossi did in practice and qualifying, he was easily the top rookie all month and one of the top ten drivers all month. He was a bit out of his element at Texas but managed and got a respectable finish. Iowa was a great for him and outside of the pit lane pile-up he appeared to be a contender for at least the podium at Pocono.

Rossi seems to have settled for life in the United States. Formula One may never call again but he had a good career in Europe. He won a handful of races across the top junior series. He got five Formula One starts and was respectable for a bad team in all five. He even got a Le Mans start. Rossi could still have a full career and be an IndyCar driver, the likes of Scott Dixon, Sébastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud are proof of that. He was in the rumor mill for a ride with Penske with Josef Newgarden. He already has everyone's attention in IndyCar. He could win at Andretti Autosport but it is good to know that the best are interested. I am not saying he could be on his way to re-writing the IndyCar record books but he seems to have found solid ground for what could be a long career in his native land.