Even though all of the big teams struggled at Indianapolis, none were more troublesome than Andretti Autosport. After some serious trouble in oval qualifying last year, the Michael Andretti led outfit hoped to regain some of their speed in 2011.
Unfortunately, Indy showed them that they had actually gone backwards. Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti squeaked into the field on Bump Day, while Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway lacked the speed to make the field (Hunter-Reay was later placed in A.J. Foyt’s No. 41 entry that Bruno Junqueira qualified).
In all, it was nothing short of disastrous. To see one of the best-funded teams with some of the most high-profile drivers to run so poorly at the biggest race of the year was stunning.
However, despite that poor showing, the Andretti Autosport squad might be poised to turn it around in Texas. As previously mentioned, they have struggled with qualifying pace and raw speed. However, in terms of race pace, they remain among the series’ best.
Last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay started 22nd at Kansas and finished fifth, and then started 24th at Texas and finished seventh, going from the back to the front twice after suffering pit road problems. Similarly, Marco Andretti finished third at the 2010 Indy 500 after starting 16th and went on to finish third at Texas after starting 10th.
As Hunter-Reay has explained before, they build good “race cars.” What’s more, Texas has been kind to their drivers. Marco Andretti was a contender for the win back in 2008 before a late-race crash (ironically with Hunter-Reay) and has finished fourth and third in the last two runnings. Also, Danica Patrick pushed Ryan Briscoe last year as they battled for the victory in the late stages.
After their well-documented problems at Indy, the Andretti group will have a chance to redeem themselves. It won’t be the first time a team was embarrassed at Indianapolis only the rebound in the immediate races.
In 1995, Team Penske failed to qualify both Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi for that year’s “500.” But, at the next race (Milwaukee that year), Unser Jr. battled Paul Tracy for the win, eventually finishing second. Later that summer, when the series visited Michigan (with a package similar to that of Indianapolis), Unser Jr. again fought for the win, barely losing out to Scott Pruett on the final lap.
As with Andretti Autosport in 2011, Team Penske showed very poorly at Indy in ’95 only to rebound immediately. They will be the example Andretti Autosport will try to emulate.
What’s more, the signing of Allen McDonald, who helped lead Dario Franchitti to an Indy 500 crown and series championship in 2007, will boost their performance. McDonald, who will be an engineer on Mike Conway’s car, is well respected in the paddock and regarded as one of the most intelligent engineers around. His influence can be seen in the upswing of Alex Tagliani and Sam Schmidt Motorsports. McDonald will have a big impact on the all four of the Andretti cars.
Andretti Autosport fell short of expectations during the month of May. They need to rebound after such an abominable performance. This weekend’s Twin Firestone 275’s provide them that opportunity.