After a frustrating and disappointing opening NTT IndyCar Series weekend, the Andretti Autosport squad is looking to hit the reset button at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA).
A fifth-place finish for Alexander Rossi was the only bright spot in an otherwise tough weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg that was marred by mechanical issues and set-up problems.
Hunter-Reay: “We’ll keep soldiering on”
Ryan Hunter-Reay paced practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg only to suffer a Honda engine failure after just 19 laps.
Coming off the back of a 2018 season that was beset by mechanical gremlins, Hunter-Reay was frank in his assessment of his latest DNF: “This one definitely stings”, remarked the former series champion.
“Honda has been doing such a great job for us. They give us tremendous powerplants and great drivability”, said Hunter-Ready. Despite a significant loss of championship points, the 38-year-old remains upbeat: “We’ll figure it out. I have a great team behind me, and we’ll keep soldiering on.”
“We definitely had a lot of positives”, said Hunter-Reay. “Somehow, we have to avoid the bad luck and we’ll make a run for the championship”, he concluded.
Set up problems hinder Andretti, Rossi and Veach
While reliability was not an issue for the rest of the Andretti cars, set-up issues were. The US Concrete-backed driver lined-up 17th on the grid after failing to find a cure for understeer issues on the Firestone alternate tires.
“The big killer was qualifying”, said Andretti. The 31-year-old admitted his car then lacked the race pace needed make significant progress at a track renowned for limited overtaking opportunities: “You have to be flying in order to overtake”, remarked Andretti of the twisty Florida street circuit.
“We got some guys but not enough. Then we got the flat tire and that was the nail in the coffin”, said Andretti.
Both Alexander Rossi and Zach Veach similarly struggled to dial-in fast and balanced cars. Though Rossi joined Hunter-Reay in the Firestone Fast Six he ended up the slowest of the runners, 1.4 seconds off the ultimate pace of pole sitter Will Power.
Unable to find a quicker set-up, the speed deficit carried through to Sunday’s race.
Rossi: “one step behind our competition”
“It was really all we had, pretty much where we started”, admitted Rossi who struggled to match the leading Penske and Ganassi cars: “It was a good setup in the race, I just think we were one step behind our competition”, concluded the 2018 championship runner-up.
Post-qualifying set-up changes on Veach’s Gainbridge Honda failed to help the sophomore driver improve on the pace that took him to 14th on the grid: “We made a change overnight with the car that I think may have made things a little more complicated”, said the 24-year-old.
Veach was left to rue lap 1 contact that compounded the issue, leaving him to follow teammate Andretti home in 14th place.
“We got hit into Turn 1 by Sato”, explained Veach. “That kind of shuffled us back, and that’s where we ended up running.”
Seeing the upside of a difficult opening weekend Veach concluded: “If you have one bad one a year, we got ours out of the way up front.”
The IndyCar Classic at COTA – round two of the NTT IndyCar Series – presents an opportunity for a quick reset for the Andretti outfit. Strong performances from Penske and Ganassi suggest another tight championship battle is likely this season and Andretti have work to do to match their pace.
The inaugural IndyCar Classic at COTA takes place March 22-24 with live coverage on NBCSN and the NBC Sports Gold app.