At the start of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar season I picked out 3 drivers needing a standout season this year. As we get down to the business-end of the season with only 4 races to go, its a good time to consider how each of them has faired. And what they might need to do before the season ends on September 17.
Back in February I was marvelling at the abilities of Michael Andretti and the Andretti Autosport team to keep finding sponsors for Marco. Season after disappointing season another brand would appear out of nowhere.
Which led to a fairly obvious conclusion: that such a scenario could not continue indefinitely. And it turned out to be a little prophetic.
Marco’s patchy sponsorship and performances
Marco sported HHGregg primary sponsorship at the start of the 2017 IndyCar season but that went south, along with the entire corporation.
Andretti’s number 27 car has since featured a mixture of occasional United Fiber and Data, #Checkit4Andretti and Shop Andretti branding. This patchy sponsorship is a perfect analogy for Andretti’s 2017 season.
There have been flashes of speed – particularly in Friday practice sessions and, as always, at Indianapolis. Once again his season has been a story of great inconsistency. Marco has been pacing practice sessions before struggling for speed in qualifying. Similarly Andretti has looked lost for a decent set-up on Saturday only to find pace unexpectedly on Sunday afternoon.
A frustrating season for Andretti Autosport
In Marco’s defence, Andretti Autosport has had a difficult season. Outside of their surprise Indy 500 win with Takuma Sato, they have struggled. But not for a lack of pace.
The early season swing in performance superiority to Honda saw Andretti cars running at the front of the field. Frustratingly a disproportionate number of Honda engine failures have befallen their cars. Just when the likes of Dale Coyne and Ganassi were taking full advantage, Andretti cars seemed to expire every other lap (which is pretty much exactly what happened at Long Beach).
11 points off Ryan Hunter-Reay is good, right?
With only Pocono, Gateway, Watkins Glen and Sonoma left Marco is the lowest ranked full time Andretti Autosport driver in the point standings. He is however sitting just 11 points behind Andretti team leader, Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Before you get the ticker-tape out consider that Hunter-Reay has posted the following finishes this season: 17th at Long Beach; 13th at Phoenix; 27th at the 500; 17th at Detroit; 19th at Texas; and 14th at Road America. Highly unimpressive stuff.
More of the same in 2018?
Marco looks odds on for a seat with his father’s team in 2018 despite another lacklustre season. Like a lot of IndyCar fans, I want to see Marco do well but it is increasingly difficult to see what, if anything, can rekindle the magic of his rookie and sophomore seasons.
2018 is going to see movements at Penske, Ganassi and Andretti in terms of driver line-ups. Out of contract at the end of the year, Hinchcliffe could put himself in the box seat with a strong 2017 IndyCar season.
A dream start to the season
Hinchcliffe nailed the start of the season. Opening the year with a top 10 at St Petersburg was a solid start. That was quickly followed by an epic win at Long Beach and another top 10 at Alabama. A stand out season looked to be on the cards before things went a bit awry from Phoenix onwards.
A top 10 finish at Iowa plus a podium on home soil in Toronto has got Hinchcliffe back in the hunt for a decent championship finish. Prior to that his results made for disappointing reading. 13th on the Indy road course, 22nd in the 500 and 20th at Detroit and Road America are not the results of a leading IndyCar contender.
Finishing the season at some bogey tracks
Hinch’s imminent ‘free-agent’ status means he is key to the 2018 IndyCar driver market. Drives at Ganassi and Andretti are realistic options but another season of inconsistent results is damaging his prospects.
The 2017 IndyCar schedule finishes with visits to 3 tracks that have not been happy hunting grounds for the Canadian. They could be what makes or breaks a move to somewhere like Ganassi.
If Hinch can deliver at Pocono (average finish: 15th), Watkins Glen (best finish: 18th) and Sonoma (average finish: 13th), it will confirm the 5-time IndyCar race winner is ready for an IndyCar championship. 2017 could still be the standout season Hinch needs if he can run well from now until Sonoma.
2017 was supposed to be a big year for Munoz. Finally getting that coveted team leader spot in a relatively well-funded, full-time IndyCar outfit. Not to mention running the dominant Chevrolet package.
Munoz needed a big season to justify Foyt Racing’s decision to put their faith in him as a team leader. During the 2016 off-season, amidst the significant upheaval of clearing their driver roster and changing aero/engine package, logic would have suggest Foyt go with a more experienced driver. Preferably one with recent Chevrolet experience. Basically not Carlos Munoz.
Failing to live up to expectations
Munoz has done nothing to undermine that decision. Despite his lack of experience in IndyCar and with the Chevrolet package. Unfortunately, everything else has failed to live up to expectations.
AJ Foyt Racing has struggled all season to get a handle on the Chevrolet package. Qualifying in particular for both Munoz and teammate Daly has been the stuff of nightmares.
Top 10s for the Colombian at Long Beach, Phoenix and the Indy 500 were impressive. Especially when considered against the results that bookended them. His average finish outside of those races was 16th place.
Sitting a lowly 17th in the point standings Munoz is on course for his worst end of season placing since his 3 race rookie season in 2013. Carlos has, in effect, had a standout season but the performance of his team masks that.