By Josh Farmer, Contributing Writer
With the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season rapidly approaching, Motorsports Tribune is previewing each of the teams competing on the tour. The site’s IndyCar staff will break each team down, laying out their results from the previous season while previewing the year to come for the organization and their driver(s).
What Happened Last Year: Andretti Autosport’s 2017 season was divided right down the middle, with 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato carrying the flag for the Honda-powered team as team stalwarts Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished midpack in the championship.
Rossi’s season was highlighted by a win from pole at Watkins Glen and two additional podiums (Toronto, Pocono) on his way to a seventh-place finish in the standings. Sato broke through and claimed the team’s fifth win in the Indianapolis 500, which propelled him to eighth in the championship.
Hunter-Reay earned three podiums (Indy GP, Iowa and Watkins Glen) and finished fourth at St. Petersburg, but never finished higher than eighth for the remainder of the year. Much of that was not of his own doing, as mechanical issues robbed him of potential wins at Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500. He managed to salvage ninth place in the standings with a top ten at the double-points-paying season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
Andretti’s year nearly mirrored RHR’s, with the high points coming at the Streets of Toronto (fourth) and the attrition-filled Texas race (sixth). He had a handful of top-tens peppered throughout the year on his way to finishing 12th in the championship.
2018 Breakdown: Continuity is a fundamental theme for Andretti Autosport in 2018. There have been a few shake-ups, the most notable of them being Zach Veach replacing the departing Sato. Rossi and Andretti will switch car numbers, but the personnel lineups remain unchanged.
The only break in the commonality is Veach joining the fold. The Mazda Road to Indy veteran returns to where his road to IndyCar began at Andretti. The 23-year-old from Stockdale, Ohio drove for the team in all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder (USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights) from 2010-2014.
Veach got his feet wet in the tour during the 2017 season, making his IndyCar debut at Barber Motorsports Park for Ed Carpenter Racing as a fill-in for the injured JR Hildebrand. The six-time Indy Lights race winner also raced for AJ Foyt Racing at the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, finishing 26th after a mechanical issue.
While inexperience does have him behind the eight ball, there is optimism for the pilot of the No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda. He spent a year in Indy Lights driving the Dallara IL-15, which behaves similarly to the 2018 universal aero kit and should give him a solid baseline and he inherits the defending Indy 500 winning team.
Rossi has a wave of momentum propelling him this year. The 26-year-old Californian finished off the year strong with six finishes of sixth or better in the final seven races. Topping that off, Rossi will have Jeremy Milless engineering his No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda. Milless joined the team last year, and was instrumental in Rossi’s successes. Having spent a year together, the pair have a season’s worth of data to build on.
Andretti will be looking for another year of improvement in 2018. In spite of the rough last two seasons, the new 2018 car could play into the 31-year-old Pennsylvanian’s favor. Andretti scored his best career points finish of fifth in 2013 while driving the first-generation DW-12 body kit. That result also made him the last Andretti Autosport driver to finish in the top five in points.
Also favoring Andretti is the return of IndyCar driver Bryan Herta as his driver coach, who guided Rossi to a win in the 2016 Indianapolis 500 driving the No. 98 car.
Veteran Hunter-Reay is as motivated as ever to have a better season. The 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner is also in the midst of a 34-race winless drought dating back to Pocono in 2015. The driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda will once again be supported by engineer Ray Gosselin, who has worked with him since he joined AA in 2010.
As for the whole of Andretti Autosport, the season will ultimately come down to how quickly they can adapt to the universal aero kit. That’s the most significant change for the team.