Is Andretti Invincible At The Brickyard?
It is not just mere luck that has allowed Michael Andretti’s organization to win three of the last four runnings of the Indianapolis 500.
Don’t forget that as a driver, his famous father Mario won this event only once in 1969. Michael himself led 431 laps in over a decade of tries in the Greatest Spectacle of Racing, and all it got him was a runner-up finish to Rick Mears in 1991.
The team has had its variety of ways to grab the brass ring at the Brickyard since its first triumph with the late Dan Wheldon in 2005. Even in its initial effort in 2003, the squad was within range of glory, and a year later, the four-car lineup took three of the first four places, but could not deny Buddy Rice the trip across the yard of bricks first.
After a seven-year lull between its second P1 with Dario Franchitti in 2007 and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s outdueling of Helio Castroneves in 2014, Andretti Autosport has only had one bad showing since where a chance of victory was never in play. That occurred in 2015, when Honda’s engine and aero kit package was not on level footing with Chevrolet. Even a late-race strategy call to put Carlos Munoz at the point was not enough to hold back Team Penske and its eventual race champion Juan Pablo Montoya.
The 2016 and 2017 editions of the 500-mile race have seen Andretti use its strength in numbers well. When early pacesetters Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell were eliminated in a pit road collision in the former, Carlos Munoz appeared set to pick up the pieces, only to be trumped by a superior fuel-saving exhibition by then–rookie Alexander Rossi.
Last year’s joyride saw Formula One star Fernando Alonso steal the early headlines, but in the end, Takuma Sato took advantage of a superior Honda V-6 powerplant to once again keep Castroneves out of the four-time winners’ club at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
So with another six-man roster primed to take center stage in four months from now, can the legendary name add yet another visage to the Borg-Warner Trophy? On paper, you should be able to realize that four of the 2018 lineup have a legitimate chance to be welcomed into the winner’s circle by the Gordon Pipers.
The leader of the pack since 2014 has been the former Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who could easily have three first-place runs in the past four editions. Based on my expert opinion, the No. 28 DHL Honda has appeared to be the class of the field in each of those 200-lap events with only a pit road accident and a blown engine keeping him from reaching the penultimate phase of the battle.
Alexander Rossi proved in 2017, that he can be competitive on his own merit, rather than solely calling upon superior strategy. A front row qualification, plus his early hounding of Alonso verified that assessment. Same can be said for Marco Andretti, who despite showing major regression elsewhere, still appears capable at the Brickyard.
The new clean-up hitter features a return to Andretti for Carlos Munoz, after an uncompetitive year with A.J. Foyt. The Colombian has been a factor since day one, qualifying for the front row in 2013, despite never participating in an IndyCar and then placing second on race day his first effort in a race over 100 miles. Not bad for a beginner and despite his teammates giving way in 2016, Munoz was able to show his hand late, only to settle for second again.
The question for 2018, is whether Stefan Wilson or Zach Veach can fill the newcomer role as solidly as the Colombian. While Wilson has only one chance to impress this season, Veach has already made positive gains in testing this month at Sebring, Florida. In the right scenario, the No. 26 Honda could yet impress with another first-time driver.
In the end, however, if fate does not play a role, the Indy 500 may see yet another multi-time champion in Ryan Hunter-Reay.
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