Photo: Justin R. Noe/ASP, Inc.

Rain Costs Marco Andretti Podium Recovery in Barber

By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The rain-postponed Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was chaotic for all involved, but few endured as many ups and downs at Marco Andretti.

Andretti’s topsy-turvy Alabama affair started with a strong seventh-place qualifying effort, but the challenge of the rain and Barber Motorsports Park course threw Andretti off-course shortly into Sunday’s initial 23-lap effort.

With track position lost and heavy rains descending upon the circuit, Andretti’s Andretti Herta Autosport team hinged their bets on strategy.

They brought Andretti’s No. 98 Honda to pit road on Lap 13, with hopes of the race potentially being called at the halfway mark of the time limit – an hour into the race. The Pennsylvanian was put on a strategy that would see him be able to continue through the hour mark as others were forced to pit, giving him an opportunity to gain track position.

For a time it appeared the move could work, but heavy rains forced the race to a close after just 23 circuits, leading to a postponement to Monday morning as Andretti sat 14th. There was still hope that Andretti could shoot ahead of his competitors with the alternate strategy, but Verizon IndyCar Series officials allowed teams to refuel their cars before the race resumed, effectively trapping the 13-year veteran in his current position.

Andretti voiced his displeasure with the decision on Twitter after the announcement.

“Hard to call it a continuation of a race tomorrow when they let everyone ahead of me add fuel overnight,” he tweeted. “Instead of P14 and leader on opposite strategy. We are now just P14.”

When the race resumed on Monday, Andretti’s team again put him on an alternate strategy.

The 31-year-old was called to pit road on Lap 32, beginning a two-stop strategy that allowed him to run his own pace and gain ground. The third-generation star made the most of the opportunity, laying down a host of fast laps and rising up to contend for a podium in the final run to the checkered.

But in the end the strategy was undone by Mother Nature. A return of rain in the final 15 minutes sent Andretti to pit road, relegating him to a 10th-place result.

He voiced his displeasure with the effort afterward.

“I think 10th was the worst we should have finished,” Andretti said. “I think myself and the guys earned P3. We beat (James Hinchcliffe) out in the end, so we had third locked up until the rain made all of the one-stoppers work

“We were looking really good for a podium. We were way better than what that showed.”

While he was disappointed with the result, it marked Andretti’s third top-10 finish in four 2018 races. His 9.0 average finish to date is the best he’s managed since 2013 (8.9). He’ll hope to carry that same speed into Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Month of May, where he’ll try to end the so-called “Andretti Curse” with an Indianapolis 500 win.

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Aaron Bearden is a Contributing Writer for Motorsports Tribune, handling coverage of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and ABB FIA Formula E Championship. A native Hoosier, Bearden has attended races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since he was three years old. He can be found on social media at @AaronBearden93.