On the heels of a strong month of May where Andretti Autosport saw each of its six cars finish the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, the Honda-powered squad was back in action on Saturday with another impressive showing.
While Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon picked up his 42nd career IndyCar win (ironically moving into a tie for 3rd with Michael Andretti on the all time wins list), the next three finishers were all members of the Andretti stable.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, still hungry for that first victory since Pocono in 2015, finished runner-up in a strong late-race push for the No. 28 DHL Honda driver.
The Florida native started the day by qualifying 5th and had a shot at Dixon when a late-race caution flew on lap 55. With 10 laps remaining, Hunter-Reay pushed to his limit but was unable to close the gap before the final margin of victory reached 1.8 seconds.
“I was doing qualifying laps there the whole time,” an exasperated Hunter-Reay said after the race. “Man, it was physical, just trying to qualify every single lap (of the race). Then at the end, with the restarts, kind of threw it off the rhythm there.
“I had trouble getting the tires clean, and kind of let Dixon slip away there. I thought, the first couple laps after the green came out on the restart, I had something for him, but I just couldn’t keep the mid-corner speed on the far end of the track to keep up with him, to get close enough for the pass.”
The finished moved Hunter-Reay to 5th in the IndyCar championship standings, 49 points behind the next finishing Andretti driver, Alexander Rossi.
Rossi was once again a hard-charger Saturday in Detroit, continuing some of the eye-popping driving he displayed in Indianapolis last weekend.
When teams split pit strategies between 2 and 3 stops, the running order was constantly shuffling. While Rossi began the afternoon 4th, it seemed he was passing drivers left and right just to maintain position.
Consistently running in the top five, Rossi felt like he had a bit more left on the table despite a respectable 3rd place finish and his 4th podium result of 2018.
“I think the No. 27 Ruoff Home Mortgage car had the capability to win, but for whatever reason, after pit stops, we just kept coming out behind a slower car and weren’t able to maximize clean air and fresh tire pace,” Rossi explained.
Showing a bit of wisdom that he may not have possessed earlier in his IndyCar career, Rossi realized that he couldn’t match the speed of Dixon or Hunter-Reay in the final stint and maximized his day by holding 3rd place.
“When the last restart happened, I knew we didn’t have the pace for the top two, so sometimes you’ve just got to be content with third,” said the NAPA Auto Parts driver. “It’s great to be back on the podium, it’s great for the team after a very long month of May.”
As stated previously, Rossi leads the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings by 4 points over race winner Scott Dixon and is one of three Andretti Autosport drivers in the top-10.
The newest member of that club is Marco Andretti.
Marco started on the pole after a dazzling display of driving at the gun during Saturday morning’s race one qualifying session.
He snatched the top spot away from Dixon with a 1 minute, 14 second lap that was nearly 6 tenths of a second quicker than his Chip Ganassi Racing counterpart.
While Andretti led the first 23 laps of the 70-lap contest, Dixon jumped around him during the first pit stop sequence and that left Marco fighting with traffic the rest of the afternoon.
Though he was able to briefly enjoy the Verizon P1 Award earlier in the day, by race’s end Andretti was dissatisfied to place one spot off of the podium. He admitted that his winless drought seems to be getting to him a bit.
“You hate to go backwards. We definitely wanted another trophy,” Andretti said. “I haven’t had a podium in a while and that’s been getting to me, let alone the win. We’ll do some homework tonight on how we can improve on the race today and do better tomorrow. We want to get the pole tomorrow.”
While he may not be pleased to drop a net of three spots in the finishing order, the result was good enough to place him 9th in the IndyCar points standings ahead of notables Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato, Ed Jones and Tony Kanaan.
Finally, rookie driver Zach Veach was the final Andretti Autosport car to finish the race today when he placed 12th and completed each of the 70 laps.
Veach has done a fine job this year of logging laps and finishing races – which is about all you can ask of an IndyCar Series rookie.
In 2018, the Stockdale, Ohio native has been running at the conclusion of each race and has completed 877 of the 882 laps this season (99.4%).
Despite another solid effort, Veach was already searching for ways to trim speed and improve on Saturday’s effort for Sunday’s race.
“I thought we had a really good qualifying car. I think we should have qualified inside the top six, but I just didn’t do the job I needed to during qualifying,” Veach admitted. “I think our car is good, there’s just a couple things I need to improve on (for Sunday). Overall, for learning, I think today was very good for us.
“Obviously 12th isn’t where we want to be finishing races, but for our first race here, I don’t think it’s terrible.”
Amid the competitive juices that were flowing after the race, the rookie Veach still had the perspective to acknowledge this Andretti teammates and how they have helped him along thus far in 2018.
“Congratulations to my teammates, they’ve done a hell of a good job all weekend, so far. They’re paving the way for me and I’m just learning as much as I can. Detroit is very rough and 70 laps around this place seems like an eternity. (Sunday) is going to be a lot of work as well.”
Currently Veach is 17th in the IndyCar points standings and trails only Robert Wickens for the rookie of the year crown.
With each of their four drivers finishing inside the top-12, Andretti Autosport can be a bit more aggressive on Sunday with some solid results in their back pocket.
Certainly they are running for a points championship just like everyone else, but having that first race in the bag is a luxury.
Stay tuned to Open-Wheels.com for the latest from the Detroit Grand Prix in the coming days.