By Aaron Bearden, Open Wheel Editor
DETROIT — Marco Andretti delivered his best finish of 2018 at Belle Isle Park, finishing fourth in Saturday’s Race 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.
It was a good result. But Andretti felt it could have been much more.
“I guess you’ve gotta be happy, right?,” Andretti told Motorsports Tribune after the race. “But the frustrating thing is that we went backwards, and our teammates beat us again.
“It’s really getting frustrating.”
Andretti stole the show early on in the first of two race days in Detroit, soaring to his first pole since Pocono Raceway in 2013 with the lone sub-1:15.000 lap of the day. The run put spurred thoughts that Andretti could deliver his No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda to victory lane for the first time since Iowa Speedway in 2011.
Early on Andretti appeared capable of doing just that. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon was lurking in second after a strong qualifying effort of his own, but the 31-year-old held the lead through the start of the 70-lap race, and proceeded to pace the opening 22 circuits before his team brought him to pit road.
It was there that things began to go awry.
A slow stop relative to his competitors saw Andretti emerge behind Dixon and Graham Rahal after the opening pit sequence. A three-stop strategy also elevated Ryan Hunter-Reay ahead of Andretti, pushing the Pennsylvanian out of a podium position as the race entered the halfway point.
“No idea what happened (there),” Andretti said of the stop. “We’ve gotta look at it. That’s where we’ve got to improve tomorrow.”
Rahal pitted on Lap 45 and subsequently crashed on Lap 47, pushing Andretti back into a podium position. The 13-year veteran would hold that position through the ensuing green-flag run, keeping hopes alive for his first podium since 2015.
But in the end a second caution, this time for a spinning Santino Ferrucci, forced Andretti to defend the position on a second restart on lap 60. The third-generation driver held the spot for one circuit, but ultimately lost third to teammate Alexander Rossi on Lap 61.
From there on Andretti slotted in a fourth – a position he would hold until the checkered flag.
The run was disappointing, but Andretti found promise from his No. 98 Honda’s pace in the event. He hopes that a slight change could see him score a podium in Sunday’s second race.
“I think we were maybe a bit too aggressive,” he said. “We went a bit loose. We still had the qualifying car, which was good at some points. We were just too loose.”
Andretti will get a second chance at a Belle Isle podium in Sunday’s Race 2 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.