Today on Open-Wheels.com, we continue our 2018 Team Review Series. In this edition, we look back at the season that was for Andretti Autosport. After a few notable changes made heading into the season, the multi-car conglomerate would soon become the organization to beat in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Starting Off Strong
After just two wins and no drivers finishing in the Top Five in points, Andretti Autosport would make some changes for 2018. Most notably, Zach Veach would enter IndyCar for the first time. The rookie took Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato’s seat with his departure for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti would swap car numbers, with Rossi taking the No. 27. Andretti would begin the year with co-owner Bryan Herta’s traditional No. 98.
Things got off to an unspectacular start for the team, with only Ryan Hunter-Reay starting in the Top 10 at St. Petersburg. Hunter-Reay overcame first-lap issues to finish fifth By race’s end, Andretti (9th) and Rossi (3rd) joined him in the group, with Veach a lap down in 15th.
Headed to the first oval three weeks later, Rossi and Hunter-Reay would be the standard-bearers for the team.
At ISM Raceway, the two qualified and finished in the Top 10. After an early penalty, Rossi completed 53 passes and finished third for the second-straight race.
Hunter-Reay moved from eighth to fifth. Andretti and Veach also made improvements from their starting spots, going from 20th to 12th and 23rd to 16th, one lap down respectively.
A week later at the famed street course in Long Beach, the four-car team would emulate Team owner Michael Andretti’s success there.
Rossi earned his second career pole and dominated, leading 71 laps en route to his third victory. Veach completed a strong run from 16th to 4th for his best result ever. Marco Andretti followed suit, storming from 20th to 6th.
Issues throughout the day kept Hunter-Reay in 20th after starting seventh. The 2010 Long Beach winner ended the afternoon four laps down.
Hunter-Reay rebounded at Barber Motorsports Park the following week, starting fourth and finishing second. Andretti would be the only teammate in the Top 10 (10th after starting 7th). Rossi and Veach finished 11th and 13th after starting 8th and 11th.
After a three-week break, the team’s month of May began on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Rossi continued his strong start, finishing fifth after starting eighth. He would be the lone car in the Top 10.
Making the Best of it All
For the Indianapolis 500, veterans Carlos Munoz and Stefan Wilson joined the team, giving them six cars as they had in 2017. Looking for a third straight Indianapolis 500 victory, Marco Andretti led the way.
The 2006 Rookie of the Year posted the fastest practice times with and without a tow.
The Honda-powered teams would be at a disadvantage in qualifying and the Andretti cars did not make the Top 11. Once the race started, their fortune changed. After a disastrous qualifying, Rossi stormed from 32nd to 4th.
Hunter-Reay and Munoz followed closely, improving from 18th to 5th and 21st to 7th. Andretti started and finished 12th and Stefan Wilson ended the race 15th after starting 23rd and leading late. Veach finished two laps down in 23rd after starting 25th and experiencing fueling issues.
Six days later, Andretti earned his first pole in nearly five years at the first Belle Isle race and led 22 laps. Rossi and Hunter-Reay led Andretti in a 2-3-4 finish for the team. Veach finished a solid 12th after starting 16th.
In the second race, Hunter-Reay and Rossi battled for the win. Hunter-Reay took advantage of Rossi’s brake lock-up and led the final seven laps for his first win since Pocono in 2015. Andretti capped a strong weekend in ninth, with Rossi and Veach in 12th and 13th.
Rossi would make up for the finish less than a week later at Texas, charging from eighth to third. Hunter-Reay moved up from tenth to fifth, while Veach and Andretti were hampered by mechanical issues and finished 16th and 14th.
Mechanical troubles continued to impede the team at Road America and Iowa. Alexander Rossi finished 16th and ninth in the races, with Hunter-Reay finishing second on the road course before suspension issues relegated him to 19th at Iowa.
Andretti earned 11th and 16th at the tracks, while Veach struggled at the new venues (his best finish would be 20th at Road America).
Turning their Fortunes Around
Following the unsatisfactory results, the series headed to the Exhibition Place circuit in Toronto. In the final street course race of the season, three cars finished in the Top 10. Veach headed the effort, driving from 22nd to 7th. Rossi (8th) and Andretti (10th) followed nearby.
Hunter-Reay was involved in a mid-race pile-up and dropped from 6th to 16th.
After another two-week break, the team showed once again they were beginning to put it all together. Rossi started on the pole and led 66 of 90 laps for his second victory of the year.
Rossi’s teammates joined him in the Top 10, the first time in 2018 all four cars were in the Top 10.
With points leader Scott Dixon in his sites, Rossi continued his dominant stretch when the season resumed at Pocono on August 19.
The third-year driver started third and led 180 of 200 laps for his first oval win since the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Hunter-Reay was involved in a Lap 7 crash, with Veach and Andretti finishing sixth and seventh.
Headed to Gateway, Rossi continued his charge to the points lead, topping both practices. He finished second and cut Dixon’s lead to 26 points.
Veach turned in a thrilling drive, moving from 16th to fifth. Andretti and Hunter-Reay struggled, with the latter dropping out on Lap 172 with fuel pressure issues.
The penultimate race and return to Portland International Raceway capped a busy three-week stretch. On Lap 1, Veach made contact with James Hinchcliffe, triggering a multi-car crash in Turn 2. Veach, who started sixth, spun on Lap 55 and finished a lap down in 19th. Hunter-Reay finished second, his first podium since Road America.
Rossi looked primed to continue cutting his points deficit but fell to eighth despite leading 32 laps.
With one race to go, just 29 points separated Rossi and the championship. Despite being Andretti Autosport’s lone championship hope, it would be Hunter-Reay who led the way at Sonoma. He started on the pole and led 80 of 85 laps to close out the year with a victory.
Despite running out of fuel late and falling short of the title by 57 points, Rossi finished second in the standings.
Andretti closed out his 13th season with a 5th-place finish and placed 8th in points. Veach ended his rookie campaign with a 14th-place finish at Sonoma and 15th-place finish in the points.
For 2019, all four drivers are expected back with the team. In addition, Andretti Autosport announced they will provide technical support for the newly-rebranded Harding Steinbrenner Racing.
It remains to be seen if this will affect their plans for the Indianapolis 500 or at any point in the season regarding additional cars.
Rossi and Hunter-Reay have proven to be contenders for race wins and the championship throughout the year. With Andretti and Veach showing improvement throughout the season, look for Andretti Autosport to be as strong as ever in 2019.
Header Image by Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR Media.